Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Draft Boarding Houses Bill released

Following its commitment to reform the boarding house sector in New South Wales, the NSW State Government has released for comment a draft Boarding Houses Bill.

(Charles Blackman, Self-portrait in front of a boarding house)

This is an initial comment on the draft Bill's provisions in relation to occupancy agreements for boarding house residents. (We will consider and comment on the Bill's other provisions, such as in relation to the registration of boarding houses, later.)

The TU strongly supports occupancy agreements, that reflect certain occupancy principles, for boarding house residents and other marginal renters. We generally support the draft Bill's provision for occupancy agreements, subject to the following major concerns:
  • Coverage. The draft Bill's occupancy agreements provisions would apply only to unlicensed boarding houses for five or more residents ('Tier 1' boarding houses) and licensed residential centres ('Tier 2' boarding houses for 'vulnerable persons'). This would leave many marginal renters excluded, such as lodgers in private homes, students in halls of residence, persons in refuge or crisis accommodation, persons in share houses without a written tenancy agreement. These marginal renters should be covered by the occupancy agreements provisions (if not the other provisions of the draft Bill).
  • Compensation. The draft Bill provides that the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal may resolve disputes about occupancy principles, and would give the Tribunal power to make orders to remedy a breach. However, the draft Bill would not allow the Tribunal to order the payment of compensation for a breach of the occupancy principles. This is contrary to fundamental principles of contract law, and removes much needed teeth from the occupancy principles. The Tribunal should be able to order compensation where a party suffers loss because of a breach.
  • Bonds. The draft Bill makes no provision in relation to resident's bonds. From our experience, many boarding house residents experience problems with bonds - in particular, getting them back at the end of their occupancy. The draft Bill should provide that any bond paid to a boarding house operator must be lodged with Renting Services, like any other rental bond.
The TU will make a submission of the draft Bill that addresses these and other matters, following consultation with residents, advocates and community sector colleagues. Our submission will be directed to making the draft Bill a strong, fair and effective reform for boarding house residents and other marginal renters.

Submissions on the draft Bill are due 10 August. Please let us know what you think of the draft Bill, in the comments here or by email: chris[underscrore]martin[at]clc[dot]net[dot]au. And keep checking the Brown Couch for further comments by the TU.

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