Jun 17, 2014

‘My dad’s the Prime Minister’: did Frances Abbott get off too lightly?

Prime ministerial daughter Frances Abbott has had a spot of bother with her landlord but ultimately got her bond back. Tenancy worker Dean Campbell wonders whether the rest of us would have been so lucky.

The PM's daughter has won her legal stoush against her former landlord after she broke her lease at an inner-Melbourne apartment. But is Frances Abbott's case business as usual -- or did she get special treatment? News of Abbott’s lease-break produced howls of laughter and derision from tenant advocacy workers who deal with these sorts of claims day in, day out. Nobody had much sympathy either for Abbott, waving around her dad’s name while blithely observing "I felt like I didn’t deserve different treatment", or for her landlord, Janine Moussi, who reportedly went into default on her mortgage after missing out on just one month’s rental at her Prahran investment property. Abbott had initially paid a bond and first month's rent on the property, but the Australian Federal Police then declared it was not secure enough for the daughter of the Prime Minister. Moussi took Abbott to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to fight keep Abbott's bond and first month's rent, arguing: "It’s a lease break, you have to honour it. It’s the law." But this isn’t necessarily true. Landlords can claim compensation for costs they incur when a tenant breaks a lease -- typically, things like the rent they’ve lost, the cost of re-advertising the property, and part of a re-letting fee. But they have to mitigate their loss by making reasonable efforts to re-let the property as soon as possible -- they can’t just leave it empty and run up a huge claim. Often real estate agents convince tenants that they must continue paying rent until the property is re-let, which isn’t true; tenants then end up frustrated when they’re still paying a month or more after they left and the property still hasn’t been advertised. Abbott, at least, had more sense. While Moussi claims it took her eight weeks to re-let the property after Abbott broke the lease, it’s difficult to see why it would take so long to find tenants for a decent apartment in as desirable a suburb as Prahran. But as a rule, landlords who can’t convince VCAT they’ve properly mitigated their losses tend to find their claims reduced, not dismissed, as seems to have happened here, with VCAT returning Abbott's bond and most of her first month's rent. In any case, Moussi is probably right that this wasn’t exactly "a standard VCAT decision". Why did Abbott get off so lightly? There are no minimum standards for residential tenancies in Victoria, and a landlord’s duties on the day a tenant takes occupation of a property extend no further than ensuring the property is vacant and reasonably clean. And when they do have a case, tenants ordinarily have to bear the costs of producing evidence they want to rely on at a hearing and don’t have the AFP on hand to assess the quality and security of their rental properties at taxpayer expense. While none of us know what evidence was produced by Abbott at VCAT, it’s probably fair to say that it’s unusual for a tenant to keep their bond after breaking a lease, especially on the basis outlined by the Herald Sun, relating to police security concerns. And while there are a range of possible defences that all tenants can use in lease-breaking cases, most of us obviously can’t tell the tribunal, as  Abbott did, that "my dad’s the Prime Minister”. 

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19 thoughts on “‘My dad’s the Prime Minister’: did Frances Abbott get off too lightly?

  1. Jaybuoy

    Tones doesn’t like to bring his family into his political operations..

  2. Brangwyn

    Is this the same daughter who got a scholarship to a prestigious college on the strength of her Dad’s name? These daughters are turning out to be nothing but trouble, it would be best to dress them in black, not white, and quietly retire them from the photo opportunities.

  3. Di Keller

    This made me feel sick to my stomach, look what this man is turning his daughter into !

  4. Pedantic, Balwyn

    In good faith the landlord let the apartment to Ms Abbott, but Ms Abbott broke the agreement on reasonable, but somewhat unique grounds and got her money back via VCAT.

    So regardless of whether the landlord can claim compensation doesn’t anyone in the Abbott household think it would have been fair to have paid a relatively paltry sum to the landlord, because through no fault of hers they had to quit the tenancy and caused her inconvenience and expense.

    There is no doubt that the Abbott family feels an entitlement to special treatment that other families would have foregone!

  5. Michael Kennedy

    Dean Campbell is not quite correct in the statement ‘There are no minimum standards for residential tenancies in Victoria’. Here’s the link to the Victorian Government’s 2009 Fact Sheet ‘Minimum standards in rental accommodation’

  6. bushby jane

    The Abbotts have shown us numerous times in the past that they are greedy and entitled; this is no different. They seem to have no idea what is right and wrong, witness the Abbott govt.

  7. Minstrel

    Probably had a cooling off period she exercised.

  8. puddleduck

    It’s been made clear by Abbott and Co. that it’s one law for “them” and another law for “us”. Don’t forget, she got the scholarship from Whitehouse School of Pretty Picture-taking, value $60,000. She then got a job as a “teacher’s aide” at their school in Melbourne – a job not known to the school before Frances graced them with her presence.
    Abbott is expecting other peoples’ kids to survive on six months’ a year dole, apply for 40 jobs a month, but his own daughter gets everything handed to her on a plate.

    The man is a hypocrite.

  9. AR

    PedB – that would be just plain fair, never mind noblesse oblige or acting graciously. Not our Tone.

  10. Matthew of Canberra

    Not sure this is really the sort of thing that needs to be keeping Australia awake at night. That said, it WAS the Herald Sun that reported it so I’d call it an “own goal”. Maybe it’s just fair and balanced, after the years the NEWSies spent stalking The First Bloke.

    Maybe she got out of the lease by being the PM’s daughter, but I’m not all that fussed about that – the circumstances which made it necessary were also because she’s the PM’s daughter. The AFP might have been there to give evidence, but that’s only fair too – it’s their evidence that made her break the lease. Maybe there was some poor planning, but hey – the bottom line is that dad could afford to bail her out in any case. I actually suspect that she’s not all that happy about this official interference in her life, who would be?

    I think the scholarship story was important because it has policy implications (yet to be fully realised, I think), but this story is really a bit prurient. The story shouldn’t be about Frances. It’s unfair and (potentially even) an abuse of the media’s power. I hope we don’t see current affairs shows going through her rubbish bins.

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