Gran’s last gasp at home

A GREAT-grandmother, forced to rely on an oxygen tank to breathe, faces eviction from her Beechworth home due to an ongoing tenancy dispute.

Jean Cook, 78, will front a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing next month to determine if she will be allowed to remain in the High Street unit, her home of six years.

“It’s been terrible, I really don’t know how to cope,” Mrs Cook said.

“Life’s tough at the moment, all this stress ... It’s not good.”

Mrs Cook has diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, with her lung capacity only one-third of what it should be.

She said in recent years her condition had worsened to the point where she needed an oxygen tube just to walk to the kitchen and back.

“I get exhausted just getting up to go to the toilet or making a cup of tea,” she said.

“Moving (house) is just not an option for me. To pack or find myself another place, I just can’t do it.”

The dispute began when Mrs Cook planned to move to Gundaroo, a small town 40 kilometres north of Canberra, to be with her daughter Sarah.

Before she left to visit Gundaroo, her son Ash sent an email on his mother’s behalf to Beechworth Real Estate in mid-December, giving notice of his mother’s impending departure.

When Mrs Cook visited Gundaroo, she realised the medical services would be inadequate for her needs.

Mr Cook said less than a week after sending the email, he told Beechworth Real Estate owner Simon Wyatt his mother wanted to stay.

While Mr Cook regrets not sending an email to confirm the withdrawal of the application to leave, he thought he had a verbal agreement with Mr Wyatt.

“I was quite confident it was done and dusted,” Mr Cook said.

Mr Wyatt yesterday said at the time he was unaware the property manager had already organised new tenants.

“I don’t think I was aware there was an issue,” Mr Wyatt said, 

agreeing there had been a miscommunication.

When Mrs Cook returned home from Gundaroo in early January, she was told by neighbours a real estate agent had taken prospective tenants through her unit and also that the front door had been left open.

Mr Wyatt did not dispute this but said he had encouraged the new tenants to seek an alternative property.

“When (the new tenants) came to pay the bond, I advised them we had an issue and encouraged them to show consideration to the older woman already at the property,” he said.

“But they’re entitled to (go through with the tenancy).

“(I could have said) bad luck and got the cops to evict her, which I haven’t.

“It’s really an unfortunate situation and no one is a winner in this.”

The property’s owner asked that the case be listed before the tribunal.

Mr Cook said his mother had not been served a document to vacate the property, and would continue to live there and pay rent until that time.

He said he did not believe all avenues had been explored to find the new tenants an alternate property.

He runs a motel in Mansfield and said he had peace of mind knowing his mother was taken care of by her neighbours.

“Things are in place now after six or seven years, everyone knows who she is, she can rely on any medical assistance,” he said.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to displace an elderly lady in this condition.”

Mr Wyatt said he believed Mrs Cook and Mr Cook were trying to pre-empt the VCAT ruling by talking to The Border Mail.

The VCAT hearing will be held at Wangaratta Magistrates Court on February 5.

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