Finalist 2021

Dear Landlord by Justice Connect

Katie Ho / Bonnie Graham / Will Jephcott / Samantha Sowerwine

Dear Landlord helps renters facing financial hardship avoid eviction into homelessness by providing bespoke, tailored information, documents and support.

Each year* over 18,000 applications are made by rental providers to evict Victorian renters for falling behind in rent. Through Justice Connect’s holistic legal services, we know that financial insecurity is one of the main reasons that people face eviction into homelessness.

We have developed an accessible solution at scale to help renters understand their rights if they are behind in rent, communicate with their landlord about their circumstances, and offer a rent reduction or payment plan to help them get on top of their arrears and stay in their homes.

*Except during the COVID-19 eviction moratorium

Design Brief

Through our casework insights and user-testing, we know that renters facing eviction don’t know their legal rights, can feel overwhelmed and are unaware of the options available to help them stay in their homes.

We designed Dear Landlord to support renters every step of the way by:

  • Generating tailored documents (e.g. letter requesting a payment plan or rent reduction, application to VCAT)
  • Explaining the eviction process in plain language (including an animation and communications strategy); and
  • Providing additional guidance to financial and legal supports, including step-by-step guidance to access COVID-19 related financial support.

The support offered through Dear Landlord aims to empower renters to understand the legal eviction process, know their rights and take action to avoid eviction and stay safely housed.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

As part of our human-centred design process, Justice Connect consulted with consumers to first, understand the problem, and then help design, test and develop a solution. This high-touch consultation continues to underpin our iterative design process, informing ongoing updates to Dear Landlord.

We conducted co-design workshops, 1:1 interviews, feedback surveys and user testing, enabling us to respond to increasing numbers of people falling behind in rent, the impacts of COVID-19, and the launch of Victoria’s new tenancy laws in March 2021.

We’ve integrated user feedback loops so we can constantly assess the efficacy of the tool in helping people avoid eviction. In addition to regular feedback loops, we routinely schedule 1:1 in-depth sessions to collect insight into our users’ evolving needs.

“A lot of the time I would be intimidated by big legal words, and this is exactly the information I would need to know to feel comfortable that this letter would cover everything that I needed it” - User testing participant

We created four core types of user groups, taking into consideration people’s different experiences navigating support services, confidence to act on rights, and management of other issues connected to housing insecurity. These help us focus on the mindsets and behind-scenes-drivers of behaviour, informing our design decisions and communication strategies.

Dear Landlord’s design processes allow the tool to respond to emerging needs as they arise. As part of the visual branding of the tool, a comprehensive component library allows new support flows to be designed and released quickly. This is imperative during the pandemic when we need to rapidly respond to the changing support needs of Victorian renters.

The design system behind the tool allows the team to make updates efficiently, while maintaining a consistent look and feel that leverages the trust associated with the Justice Connect brand.

Design Excellence

The functionality and aesthetics of Dear Landlord have been shaped by and rigorously tested with end users, to ensure the tool’s design both meets the immediate legal needs of renters and holistically addresses other legal and financial issues.

The tool can also provide direct pathways to tailored services which respond to underlying causes of housing insecurity. The delivery of these referral pathways has been carefully considered and are tailored to each renter’s circumstances upon interaction with the tool.

We also wanted to ensure the user’s emotional needs are accounted for. Throughout the tool, we translate technical legal terms into plain language and give choice to renters by providing all their options depending on their situation, providing information that inspires confidence and empowers renters to take action.

“When it’s hard to think what to do next in these situations, it guides you through with current legal advice and helps ease the stress” – Dear Landlord user

Digital innovation is a key part of Justice Connect’s strategy to increase access to legal support in harmony with direct services. Our cross-disciplinary team is made up of digital specialists, user experience experts, and lawyers and social workers with 15 years plus of expertise in eviction prevention and tackling homelessness.

Designed by highly skilled legal and digital professionals, Dear Landlord can easily be replicated in other jurisdictions as recognised by international firms who have expressed interest in adapting Dear Landlord in other countries. Dear Landlord’s design can also be replicated to help prevent other issues, such as consumer or housing debts, from becoming more complex problems.

Dear Landlord delivers a solution at scale by equipping those who have capability to self-help with effective tools, while ensuring people who are made most vulnerable by housing insecurity can access Justice Connect’s intensive legal and non-legal support as needed.

Design Innovation

Dear Landlord is unique in Australia as it is the only interactive self-help tool designed to prevent evictions. Dear Landlord has been showcased by a range of publications both overseas (e.g. The Engine Room: and locally (e.g. Law Institute Journal: as an innovative way to improve access to justice for renters.

Given the financial impacts of COVID-19 and increasing housing affordability issues, effective and preventative tools to avoid eviction and sustain housing are even more critical. The tool is designed to instil confidence through educational and actionable guidance, addressing known anxieties that prevent people from acting on their legal rights and promote self-advocacy.

“Empowering people to have hope and to be able to take these steps is really important. This is very empowering and teaching skills, vital life skills about advocacy.” - User testing participant

User needs are addressed through a range of creative design features:

  • Responsive logic-driven pathways, enabling renters to determine where they are in the eviction process and what their options and rights are by answering a few questions.
  • Legal information and processes written in plain language, broken into digestible chunks that helps mitigate feelings of being overwhelmed, and guides the renter step-by-step through the process so they can take action.
  • A calculator allows people to easily determine the percentage of income and time it will take to pay off their arrears. This helps renters calculate an affordable amount to offer in their payment plan and educates renters about ‘housing stress’, directing the renter to seek financial support if needed.
  • Two versions of the letter – an editable document and the same content in an email ready to send. This accommodates the 50% of Dear Landlord users who access the tool via mobile because word documents are not always mobile compatible.

Design Impact

Dear Landlord demonstrates that considered digital design plays a significant role in equipping renters to understand their rights and prevent avoidable evictions. This is particularly important given the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on renters in Victoria.

With robust design processes in place and a specialist team behind the tool, we have been able to respond to the changing support landscape with agility. Within 10 days of new government support being announced, we added a new support pathway to the tool helping renters to understand the eligibility criteria and steps to accessing the support.

Since the eviction moratorium lifted in March this year, we have reached nearly 28,000 users, with positive responses:
“It gave me an easy and effective way to apply for a rent reduction and it worked. [I] may have put off applying because I was uncertain how to do it” - Dear Landlord user

“It was easy to use and a fantastic tool that I’ve recommended to a lot of other people” - Dear Landlord user

We have developed a robust measurement, evaluation and learning (MEL) framework so we can continue to track our progress and measure the long-term impacts. We have shared our learnings and impact with the community sector through monthly blogs:

More than ever before, COVID-19 has created opportunities for increased digital engagement by renters and support services. Dear Landlord presents an important cost/benefit ratio by scaling our existing legal service delivery model and reaching thousands more renters to help Victorians stay safely housed.

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