Selasa, 23 Oktober 2012

Boarding Houses Act 2012

The NSW State Government's Boarding Houses Bill has passed through both Houses of the Parliament. It just needs the Governor's signature and we'll have a Boarding Houses Act 2012.

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

The Act has not commenced operation yet. We understand that the Government intends for it to commence 1 January 2013.

This is a landmark reform. Under the Act, residents of registrable boarding houses will have, for the first time, an enforceable entitlement to written agreements and written receipts.

They'll also have, for the first time, agreements that must comply with certain basic occupancy principles. These include entitlements to premises that are in a reasonable state of repair, to know the house rules before moving in, to quiet enjoyment, to know why and how the occupancy may be ended, including how much notice is to be given, and to be given reasonable notice of termination. They also include safeguards against penalty terms and unfair utility charges, and a limit on bonds to two weeks' rent. 

Residents will also have, for the first time, straight-forward access to dispute resolution in the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.

If these things seem basic and modest, they are – which says a lot about the very rough deal that boarding house residents have gotten from proprietors, and from the law, for too long.

The Act also establishes a Boarding Houses Register – so you will be able to check if the premises are registered, and find out the name of the proprietor – and directs councils to inspect premises for compliance with building and fire safety requirements. Finally, the Act revamps the regulatory regime for LRCs – now called 'assisted boarding houses'.

As we say, it is a landmark... but not the final destination of reform. Beyond this piece of legislation, there's still more to do. 

We still need to develop standard forms of occupancy agreement for the different types of boarding house accommodation (as provided for by the Act). 

We still need further law reform to extend the occupancy principles to marginal renters who don't live in registrable boarding houses (such as lodgers in private homes, share houses, student accommodation, and refuges and crisis accommodation) and who are excluded from residential tenancies legislation.

And finally, we need the deliberate and orderly winding up of the assisted boarding house sector, with residents assured of appropriate accommodation in social housing, groups homes or nursing homes, and properly funded professional support.

But as we reach the present landmark, we pause and congratulate the NSW State Government, and in particular the Disability Services Minister, Andrew Constance, who had carriage of the reforms. And we congratulate all those community workers, advocates and, especially, boarding house residents, who, over so many years, have spoken out against the injustices of marginal renting and who have kept pressing the case for reform.