By Julian Bajkowski
New South Wales councils have been put on notice by the Department of Premier and Cabinet over tough new mandatory inspection requirements for boarding houses that are intended to protect vulnerable tenants and clean-up the often criticised accommodation sector.
A circular issued to councils by the Division of Local Government sets out new obligations under the (NSW) Boarding Houses Act 2012, including a regime of mandatory registrations for proprietors and inspections by council officers “to ensure the health, safety and welfare of boarding house residents.”
Under the new regulations, councils will have a greater range of powers to impose fines on non-compliant operators and licensees and staff of so-called ‘assisted boarding houses’ – which typically accommodate the most vulnerable residents – will be subjected to criminal record checks.
Although boarding houses provide much needed accommodation for people who otherwise find it difficult to access the conventional residential property rental market, there are been longstanding concerns over both fire safety as how they are operated.
A number of councils in NSW have sought to preserve the availability of boarding house accommodation through development controls so that marginalised elements of the community are not forced out of the rental market and onto the street.
However the state government has now introduced more uniform requirements to bring boarding house operators into line.
“Boarding House proprietors are required to register their registrable boarding house on a register administered by NSW Fair Trading within 6 months of 1 January 2013 or within 28 days, where a proprietor takes over an existing, or begins operating a new, registrable boarding house,” the NSW government circular said.
Specifically, councils will now have to “conduct initial inspections of all registered boarding houses” within a year of them being registered or re-registered (unless houses have been inspected within the previous 12 months) or when the proprietor of a property changes.
Councils will also be required to develop a boarding house inspection program “including an appropriate inspection fee amount, in consultation with their local communities.”
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