Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Early sighting of new Boarding Houses Act (NSW)

The NSW Government has provided a response to last year's parliamentary inquiry into international students' accommodation... and with it a glimpse of its proposed law reform for marginal renters.

According to the response, the Government proposes a new Boarding Houses Act. At this stage, it appears the new Act will:
  • cover boarding houses that accommodate five or more residents, or that are licensed residential centres for people with disability;
  • require boarding houses to register with NSW Fair Trading, with significant penalties for non-compliance;
  • enshrine 'occupancy principles', based on the Australian Capital Territory model, to apply to residents' contracts; and
  • provide for dispute resolution by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.
Our own early response to the Government's proposals: very good, as far as it goes....

And the new Act should go further, particularly in relation to coverage.

In our experience, there are many boarding and lodging arrangements involving four or fewer people: lots of share houses, and lots of shared accommodation for international students. It may appropriate for these arrangements not to have to register as 'boarding houses', but they should by covered by the occupancy principles and the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.

The Government also indicates that the new Boarding Houses Act would expressly exclude a wide range of accommodation providers, regardless of the five-resident threshold, such as hotels and motels; serviced apartments; student accommodation provided by an educational body; accommodation specifically linked to the provision of health, aged or disability care; residential parks; crisis accommodation; group homes; or employees' accommodation.

Again, it may be appropriate that the registration provisions not apply to all these forms of accommodation, but where they are used as a person's residence, the occupancy principles can and should apply.

There's no difficulty in applying the occupancy principles to this range of types of accommodation – they are specially designed to be that flexible. And as some of these types of accommodation house very vulnerable persons – in particular, crisis accommodation, but there also some hotels and motels that do a lot of business through Rentstart temporary housing assistance – they should be covered by the Government's stated intention to 'put the appropriate legislation in place to protect and uphold the rights of vulnerable residents, whether they are people with a disability, students, or those on low incomes.'

Still, these are early and mostly positive signs of reform. And the Government has promised further consultation and opportunities for submissions. Let's hope that when it finally appears, the Boarding Houses Act does the whole job that the Government has set out to do.

1 comment:

  1. The draft bill is a good start but the devil is in the details. As written this draft legislation will likely have three unintended consequences if passed by Parliament in its current form:

    1) Crush tier 1 boarding houses making it very difficult to near impossible for veterans or civilians who receive a disability pension to receive housing in tier 1 boarding houses.

    2) Discriminate against veterans and those civilians receiving a Disability Support Pension by automatically categorizing them as vulnerable and thereby precluding them from being treated normally for housing purposes in a state that already has housing shortages and overpriced rental and housing markets.

    3) Breach of a person’s privacy and human rights because it imposes unrealistic reporting requirements concerning a person’s whereabouts (coupled with severe penalties) on operators.

    There has only been a very narrow targeted consultation process by the O'Farrell Government on this draft legislation together with a short period of the targeted consultations. There has also been a complete lack of transparency on this matter as the Department of Family & Community Services will not make available publicly non-confidential submissions.

    I have written extensively about this draft bill and its likely affect on veterans and war widows living in tier 1 boarding houses in NSW on Equal Justice for Troops blog.

    Again, the devil is in the details. Read closely with caution.


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