Going the distance on Victorian rooming houses standards


Victoria, like other Australian states and territories, is in the grip of a rental crisis

Only a tiny proportion of homes are affordable to people on low incomes. Competition is fierce, especially for homes at the low end of the rental market. This makes it easy for landlords and real estate agents to cherry-pick tenants.  

Groups that tend to get a raw deal in this market include students and young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians, migrants and refugees, people with disability and mental illness, single parents, older people, LGBTIQ+ people, and woman fleeing domestic violence. 

There is simply not enough affordable housing to meet demand – especially social housing. This leads people to lots of bad situations, including rough sleeping, couch surfing, piling into crowded and unsafe share houses; even rostered bed-sharing

And for many Victorians it leads to what is sometimes called the ‘housing of last resort’: rooming houses. 

There’s been media coverage about the conditions in Victorian rooming houses, which are often unhealthy and unsafe, sometimes downright desperate. 

Some of this coverage has been about neighbouring residents objecting to the conditions in which rooming houses are kept, and to the social impacts of living near people who might have complex problems like addiction and a lack of wraparound support. 

Some of it has been about residents themselves, especially if they have tragic outcomes

What both sets of stories hint at but don’t address directly is that these outcomes flow from structural and systemic failures.  

There are stark power dynamics inherent in the idea of a last resort. People who are at their last resort have nowhere else to go, and very little power in the housing market. This can be both cause and effect of a range of complex and intersecting issues: they might have been recently released from prison, have a history of violence or abuse, have alcohol or other drug addiction. 

When it comes to the private rental market, the Government has worked hard on improving laws that protect renters from a raft of hazards and unsafe conditions, including by introducing minimum standards for rental properties that improve the safety, security, amenity and liveability of rental homes. 


Minimum standards for rooming houses should provide at least the same level of safety, security, amenity and liveability as for other tenancies. 

The minimum standards include requirements for features that seem basic and that you would reasonably expect to be included when renting a home – such as functioning and effective external locks, a toilet and kitchen in working order, adequate ventilation and heating. Health and safety issues such as mould and damp need to be dealt with in a timely manner. If a rental property doesn’t meet minimum standards, renters can request urgent repairs, and if these are not actioned they can apply to VCAT for an order to carry out repairs.   

Minimum standards for rooming houses should provide at least the same level of safety, security, amenity and liveability as for other tenancies.   

But since renters living in rooming houses often face complex health and social issues and have less power than those in other types of private rental housing, rooming house residents need additional protections.  

The Government has acknowledged this, initiating a review of the rooming house minimum standards.  

While the changes proposed by the review would improve on the existing minimum standards for rooming houses, there is an opportunity for the Government to go further to ensure improvements in residents’ lives. VCOSS has detailed these ideas in our submission to the review.  

And while stronger minimum standards are welcome and necessary, standards alone won’t secure the wellbeing of rooming house renters. As well as practical changes to the operation of the rooming house sector, system changes we would like to see include: 

  • Strengthening mechanisms for monitoring, compliance and enforcement of standards 
  • Clarifying powers and responsibilities between local and state government 
  • Providing fit-for-purpose dispute resolution that recognises the unique dynamic between rooming house renters and providers 
  • Improving the capability of rooming house providers to house vulnerable renters 
  • Ensuring that renters can access supports they need, including support in their home. 

And these changes should be backed up by protections to prevent rooming house operators from unreasonably raising rents, and by strong education and compliance campaigns.  

The problems that lead some Victorians to opt for the streets over rooming house conditions are not baked into the system. We’ve seen momentum for change. 

The Victorian Government has made significant progress in making renting fairer and safer, and updating the rooming house minimum standards is an important step towards prioritising the needs of vulnerable Victorians. 

But there’s more work to be done, building on the good work already achieved, to make sure that people needing a last resort aren’t left with no resort at all. 

Read VCOSS’s submission to the Government’s proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies (Rooming House Standards) Regulations 2022 here

VCOSS is the peak body for Victoria’s social and community sector, and the state’s premier social advocacy body.

We work towards a Victoria free from poverty and disadvantage, where every person and community experiences genuine wellbeing. Read more.

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