Homeless woman forced to pay $5,000 as council threatens to evict her from friend's property

Teena lost her business and fled an abusive marriage. After years of couch surfing, she landed on her feet. But that could be derailed after a notice turned up.

Teena Keys is pictured in front of her cabin. She moved into the tiny home on her friend's property after struggling with homelessness for years. Now she's facing losing that home too. after being told she'd require a permit from Geelong council.
Teena Keys moved into a 'cabin' on her friend's property after struggling with homelessness. But the council has a problem. Source: GoFundMe/Geelong Advertiser

A domestic violence survivor who battled for years to put a roof over her head is again facing homelessness after her local council's "ridiculous" demand.

Geelong woman Teena Keys lost her business and fled an abusive marriage during the pandemic and as a result was forced to couch surf for three years around the state of Victoria, after being rejected from a total of 60 rental properties. Keys says she had all but run out of options when she decided to build a tiny home on her friend's 100-acre property in Anakie, about 73 kilometres southwest of Melbourne late last year.

Keys' home, which she described as "like a relocatable site hut", cost her just under $20,000 to build on the property, with the permission of her friend who owns the acreage.

However the council isn't happy about the arrangement.

Teena Keys in two split images taken from Facebook. Keys is facing homelessness again after finally landing on her feet.
Teena Keys is calling on Geelong council not to create unnecessary difficulties for Aussies trying to put a roof over their heads. Source: Facebook

After a tumultuous five years, Keys said she was finally back on her feet when she received notice from the City of Greater Geelong council that she would be required to apply for a permit to remain on the property. She was given 60 days to comply.

With no guarantee the permit would be approved, which she said would cost thousands during the application process, effectively sending her broke, Keys branded the demand "unfair" from the council.

She believes it's a puzzling move from local authorities given she was invited to live on the privately-owned property by her friend.

"So I've got to hire a town planner first and of course that costs money," Keys told Yahoo News Australia.

"Then when I do put the application in, it can still be knocked back, even though I'll have to pay $2,000. And this is all before they even come to the cabin. I've got to get a building surveyor for that, so the building surveyor alone will be around $3,000."

Keys' home in Geelong is located on a 100-acre property owned by her friend. Source: Supplied
Keys' home in Geelong is located on a 100-acre property owned by her friend. Source: Supplied

Keys said she required a loan to purchase the home, which she said "was pretty shabby" and like a "bloke's bathroom" before she fixed it up. She was finally feeling settled before the fresh wave of stress turned up.

"For me this was going to be stability that I needed — a roof over my head. During Covid, I was couch surfing for around three years, I didn't have stability," she said. "Losing the business, it just put me on the back. You know, you don't expect to be here at this age. You don't expect to be where I'm at."

Teena Keys spent $19,000 renovating a site hut into a home, but now is facing having to move if her council permit is rejected. Source: Supplied
Teena Keys spent $19,000 renovating a site hut into a home, but now is facing having to move if her council permit is rejected. Source: Supplied

The ordeal has been "so hard to swallow", Keys said, and it's been "really difficult" to "watch myself go through this again to be honest".

"And it's not just me, it's about all the other people who are facing similar," she said. "There are women and children sleeping in cars, there's elderly men sleeping down at the river in tents."

Keys said the increasingly dire lack of housing "is so common in our little town here in Geelong" and "it's so sad" to see. She's now urging the City of Greater Geelong to adopt a common sense approach when it comes to situations like hers, calling on the authority not to make things harder for people who finally find their own "solution" to the housing crisis.

"Wouldn't it be fabulous to get people off the streets and out of their cars" and into small homes on properties that are otherwise often only inhabited by "lonely farmers", she said.

"The stress levels you've got no idea, to be honest," she continued. "Some of these farmers are getting older, they need some help. It's a win-win situation."

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, City of Greater Geelong Executive Director Placemaking Tennille Bradley said she "sympathised with Ms Keys’ situation and the challenges she is facing."

"Unfortunately, Geelong is not immune to the housing crisis that is impacting people across Australia," she said. However, we have received complaints, as Ms Keys is currently living in a relocatable shed on a rural property, which requires both a planning permit and a building permit.

"Our staff have been working with the owner of the property over the past five months to explore options, as the building breaches the planning scheme. We have exercised discretion on timeframes due to the circumstances of the situation – a standard time to comply once a complaint has been received is 28 days.

"Due to the presence of two dwellings already on the rural property, along with another habitable building, it is unlikely that a planning permit would be issued."

Last week, the property owner was was notified that they had 90 days to remove the relocatable shed, extending the original deadline issued in March to 6 September, 2024. Again, due to the circumstances, this is an extended timeframe, Bradley explained.

"We acknowledge Ms Keys’ circumstances, but these regulations are in place to ensure proper land use and safety standards," she said. "We must also respect the rights of the complainant to have their concerns addressed.

"We have reached out to housing providers and hope we can assist in finding a solution. Longer term, we’re working to increase the supply of social and affordable housing in Greater Geelong so that all members of our community can access a safe place to live.

"We’re also exploring conducting a Tiny Homes on Wheels trial in Greater Geelong."

A fundraising campaign to support Keys can be found here.

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