Currently, the Victorian Parliament is considering legislation to strengthen the ability of the government to enforce rooming house standards and provide a strengthened ‘fit and proper persons’ test. VCOSS has called for stronger regulation of the rooming house sector for many years, including in our latest State Budget Submission (p.32). We welcome the provisions of the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015, and support its passage into Victorian law.
Even well-run rooming houses are often not great places to live. However, because of Victoria’s continuing housing affordability crisis, rooming houses fill an important role in providing housing to some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people, including people who are homeless. VCOSS believes that more affordable housing is needed so people have other choices than living in rooming houses, but that while rooming houses continue to operate, they should be managed to a decent standard by reputable operators.
In 2015, there were 1,146 rooming houses registered, and we understand there are still large numbers of illegal rooming houses. There are legislated standards for rooming houses, but these are still not always enforced.
VCOSS members continue to report that some people continue to operate sub-standard rooming houses that are unsafe, insecure, and do not comply with the current standards. They report that they have personally witnessed health safety issues such as vermin, leaking showers and mould; lack of security including broken doors and windows; hazardous living conditions including dysfunctional smoke detectors, unsafe gas heaters, asbestos, dangerous wiring or blocked emergency exits; and general filth, dilapidation and rubbish.
The legislation gives the state government the power to determine who is legally responsible for operating rooming houses, and the ‘fit and proper persons’ test provides much stricter criteria for who is able to operate a rooming house. The legislation also allows the government greater powers to inspect rooming houses to ensure that they are operating legally and in line with standards, and greater ability to take action if premises are not compliant, or operators have a history of criminal activity or breaches of laws relating to rooming house operation.
The ‘fit and proper persons’ test and stronger enforcement of laws is not a panacea, and much more needs to be done to expand the supply of social and affordable housing so people can find long-term security and privacy in their homes. But it will help remove poor operators, and help the government more strongly address illegal operators. This means fewer people will be living in sub-standard accommodation, and ensure that where rooming houses exist, they are decent facilities operated by reputable people.
VCOSS would like to especially thank the Tenant’s Union of Victoria, a VCOSS member organisation, for their expertise on this issue and unwavering advocacy for rooming house reform.