Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New terms lodged in boarding house agreements

Yesterday, residents of registrable boarding houses were granted new terms in the contracts they have with the proprietor of the boarding house.

Accommodation in registrable NSW boarding houses has had to be in accordance with the Occupancy Principles since July 1st this year but yesterday the flick of a legal magician's wand also inserted adherence to the principles as contractual rights in every agreement between a boarder or lodger in a registrable boarding house and their proprietor.

This means a number of remedies for breaches of the agreement have become available to boarding house residents though without protection from retaliatory terminations many residents may be understandably hesitant to bring action against the proprietor.

556 premises have registered on NSW Fair Trading's Boarding House Register so far- we congratulate those proprietors. There are many many more who have not yet registered. Homelessness NSW made a ballpark estimate that there could be as many as 20 000 boarding houses in NSW- the problem is, they can be very hard to find. ABS only recorded 627 boarding houses in NSW in the 2011 Census. Homelessness researcher Chris Chamberlain found the ABS methodology in Melbourne resulted in a significant undercount. By comparing his work with the 2011 Census count for Melbourne we can see that at best 16% of boarding houses were counted. If we apply the same multiplier here in NSW then we get a figure of at least 3700 boarding houses.

Some are recognisable, and known to be boarding houses, but many are not. A quick search of Gumtree's room share advertisements found more than 1400 ads- a large proportion of which are apartments and houses that fit the definition of a registrable boarding house, but don't necessarily identify as such. The proprietors may not even think of themselves as boarding houses- this is where it will take some time and effort from local councils and NSW Fair Trading as well as industry groups to ensure that registration occurs. 

The good news for residents of places that are unregistered, but registrable, boarding houses is that not registering does not change the law for residents. The occupancy principles apply, and are now contractual terms, whether or not the boarding house is registered, and whether or not the agreement is in writing.

For more information on the way the Boarding House Act affects residents rights, see our factsheet or call your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service!

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