Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Roomshare sector not complying with boarding house reforms

When the NSW State Government introduced the Boarding Houses Act 2012, it set out to address not only traditional boarding house establishments, but also houses and flats rented out in shared accommodation arrangements. This is the 'roomshare' sector, and it is often targeted to students and low-income workers, especially from overseas.

A few months ago the TU did some research into the roomshare sector, to get an idea of the extent to which the Boarding Houses Act applies to it (as 'general boarding houses', as defined by the Act), and the extent to which general boarding houses in the roomshare sector are complying with the requirement in the Act to be registered with NSW Fair Trading.

To do this we looked at roomshare ads on the online classifieds site, Gumtree.  

(A space on the branch rents for $150 per week)

Over five weeks we looked at Gumtree and found, on average, about 1 400 roomshare premises advertised each week (by contrast, there were 598 general boarding houses registered on Fair Trading's Register of Boarding Houses).

We analysed 224 ads to see whether the premises advertised fit the definition of 'general boarding house' at section 5 of the Act, and found:
  • 26 per cent very likely to be general boarding houses; and another
  • 18 per cent may be general boarding houses.
Of these, just two (0.5 per cent) were actually registered as general boarding houses.

On the basis of our analysis, we conclude that:
  • the roomshare sector is a large – if not the largest – part of the general boarding house sector;
  • it is hugely – almost completely – non-compliant with the requirement to register; and
  • its compliance with other aspects of the Boarding Houses Act, and other laws, is doubtful, to say the least.
The job of enforcing the registration requirement lies with local councils; we recommend that they more actively investigate the roomshare market and exercise their role.

We also recommend that the NSW State Government, local councils and representatives of boarding house residents and proprietors work together to
  • clarify what really can and should be expected of the roomshare sector, particularly in relation to planning law and local government legislation;
  • establish protocols to minimise hardship to residents where action is taken to stop roomshare premises operating; and
  • inform the development of policies for affordable housing to appropriate standards.  
Read the report here.

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