For over a decade, James* had lived and worked on a large rural property under verbal agreement with the landowner. He took care of the property and livestock and, in return, was able to live in his mobile home on the land. The landowner covered expenses such as utilities and insurance. While the landowner also had a property on the land, he didn’t live there and stayed primarily in Melbourne.
When the bushfires ravaged the area on 30 December 2019, James’s mobile home was completely destroyed. The fires also took the landowner’s property and the garage, which was filled with James’s belongings. He lost his motorbike, generators, farm equipment and all his personal belongings. The landowner asked James to make a list of everything he lost. When he did, his list added up to a total of $156,000 worth of contents.
Shortly after, the landowner told James that he was getting an insurance payout of $300,000 and that he would be keeping all of it to build a bigger house. James was confused — the payout seemed much larger than the landowner’s house was worth, but the landowner made no mention of the insurance on James’s belongings. James was certain that the landowner had used his list of contents towards getting the payout.
James confronted the landowner which only caused the breakdown of their communication completely. James moved off the landowner’s property to live with his mother in eastern Victoria. While he didn’t want to return to the property, James wanted his share of the insurance payout, so he could buy a small piece of land and mobile home to live in.
James reached out to Victoria Legal Aid, where he was referred to Justice Connect for pro bono legal help. We were able to connect James with lawyers at Hibbert & Hodges using our award-winning Pro Bono Portal. Hibbert & Hodges is a regional firm that signed up to our coordinated bushfire response so they could help provide legal services to impacted communities. James was thrilled, as the law firm was only a few minutes away from his mother’s house.
The lawyers were able to help James write a letter of demand to the landowner, asking for what James was owed. James was thankful to be connected with local lawyers who could better understand and support him. Without our pro bono portal technology, many people like James never would have received legal help at all. Hibbert & Hodges empowered James to understand his rights and take action. With the support of a regional law firm behind him, James felt empowered to stand up to the landowner and tell his side of the story.