Government Response to the Rooming House Standards Taskforce

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					Victorian Government Response
   to the Rooming House Standards
     Taskforce Chairperson’s Report




                 Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne
                                                     October 2009
Introduction

The Victorian Government welcomes the Report from Martin Foley MP, Chairperson of the
Rooming House Standards Taskforce, which was presented on 18 September 2009.

The Chairperson's Report (the Report) proposes recommendations to address illegal and
unscrupulous behaviour by rooming house landlords in the private rental market and to
provide greater protection for vulnerable residents.

The report made 32 recommendations in four key areas:

   1.   new laws to improve standards of safety and security in all Victorian rooming houses
   2.   improved compliance and enforcement
   3.   mandatory registration of all rooming house operators and premises
   4.   leasing, buying and building more alternative affordable rental accommodation.

The Victorian Coroner’s recent Record of Investigation into the Deaths of Leigh Sarah Sinclair
and Christopher Alan Giorgi, residents of a Brunswick rooming house, also proposes
recommendations to improve the safety of rooming house accommodation in Victoria.

There is significant correlation between the recommendations in the Chairperson’s Report and
the Coronial inquiry and some recommendations arising from the work of the Rooming House
Standards Taskforce will address recommendations in the Coroner’s Record of Investigation.

The Government will provide a separate, formal response to the Coroner.

This document outlines the Government's response to the Rooming House Standards
Taskforce.




                                                                                                 2
Background
There are currently around 500 registered rooming houses in Victoria and over the last few
years there has been a rapid expansion of privately run operations, many of which are
unregistered. It is estimated that total numbers could have grown to 1000.

Traditionally rooming houses have been located in inner Melbourne but in response to
Melbourne’s tight rental market there has been growth in middle and outer ring suburbs.

Whilst many rooming house operators are fair and reputable, there is growing evidence of
illegal and unscrupulous behaviour by landlords who are exploiting vulnerable people in urgent
need of affordable accommodation.

Significant numbers of rooming house operators convert residential homes to accommodate
larger numbers of tenants and charge disproportionately high rent. These providers are
operating outside current laws and regulation and may be running multiple rooming houses
across Melbourne.

In many cases the standard of accommodation offered in these rooming houses is poor.




The Rooming House Standards Taskforce

The Rooming House Standards Taskforce was announced on 15 July 2009 by the Victorian
Premier, the Hon. John Brumby MP, as part of the State’s strategy to take “action on those
predatory operators of intentionally sub-standard rooming houses who prey on some of the
most vulnerable members of our community.”

The Minister for Housing, the Hon. Richard Wynne MP, and the Minister for Consumer Affairs,
the Hon. Tony Robinson MP, appointed Martin Foley MP, Member for Albert Park, as
Chairperson of the Taskforce. The Taskforce was briefed to report to the ministers on
development of solutions for problems associated with poor quality rooming house
accommodation and services.

Specifically, the ministers asked for the following issues to be considered:

        the adequacy of existing enforcement and registration processes for rooming houses
        options for increasing affordable accommodation to residents who would normally use
         rooming house accommodation
        best practice approaches in other states and territories
        appraisal of the need for any additional standards, and changes to the existing
         regulation and enforcement processes for rooming houses
        consideration of the impact of any changes on the supply of affordable rooming
         houses.




                                                                                              3
The Government acknowledges the work of the Taskforce Chairperson, Martin Foley MP, and
the members of the Taskforce:

         Mr Mark O’Brien, Tenants Union of Victoria
         Mr David Wright-Howie, Council to Homeless Person
         Ms Kate Colvin, Victorian Council of Social Services
         Mr Owen Harvey-Beavis, Municipal Association of Victoria
         Mr Simon Roberts, Registered Accommodation Association of Victoria
         Mr John Enticott, St Kilda Rooming House Issues Group
         Mr Rob Leslie, Yarra Community Housing
         Mr Brian Pound, Community Housing Federation of Victoria
         Mr Robert Larocca, Real Estate Institute of Victoria


Over the past few years the Victorian Government has initiated a number of reforms to
improve protection for people living in rooming houses and improve the quality of affordable
rental accommodation:


Improved legislative protection

The Victorian Government has amended relevant legislation to extend legislative protection to
people in smaller rooming houses.

Major rooming house renovation program

The Victorian Government is carrying out major renovations and improvements to rooming
houses owned by the Director of Housing and not-for-profit housing providers using funds from
the Australian Government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan.

Major investment in Victoria’s public and social housing

With increased investment by the Victorian and Australian Governments, Victoria is buying and
building around 6000 new public and social homes over the next three years.

Rights and responsibilities

The Victorian Government has improved information about the rights of residents and
obligations of operators. In July 2009, the Government announced CAV Rooming House
Compliance Team of 12 staff trained to identify and respond to unregistered rooming houses
and to ensure rooming houses comply with minimum standards.

Tackling homelessness

The Victorian Government is developing a new homelessness strategy, Homelessness 2020, to
focus efforts across Government on reducing homelessness in Victoria.




                                                                                                4
The Recommendations
The Government's response to the Rooming House Standards Taskforce builds on action that
has been taken and significantly strengthens the Victorian Government's commitment to
rooming house residents.

The Government will provide $77.2 million for initiatives to implement the recommendations of
the Taskforce.

While all the recommendations are accepted in principle, a number of recommendations will
require investigation to determine the feasibility of implementation, particularly those that
involve complex changes including amendments to legislation. This will include regulatory
impact and/or business impact assessments and ensuring that the Government is compliant
with its obligations under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

Immediately the Government will begin work to:

       1. Develop a registration system through the Business Licensing Authority for all
          rooming house operators, that is linked to a statewide register

       2. Introduce new laws to improve standards for safety and security in all Victorian
          rooming houses

       3. Allocate $7 million to be used over three years for alternative crisis accommodation
          for families with children

       4. Allocate $3.1 million to lease small not-for-profit rooming houses to accommodate
          around 400 people over three years

       5. Allocate $50 million to build 200 new homes for use by families in housing crisis
          using funds from the Australian Government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus
          Plan

       6. Increase the power of the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria to act on rooming
          house operators that are in breach of their responsibilities

       7. Establish a $2.5 million private rental brokerage program to assist residents to
          establish sustainable tenancies in the private rental market

       8. Establish a $2 million sustainability fund to improve energy and water efficiency in
          registered rooming houses




                                                                                                 5
The Recommendations


Improve standards for safety and security in all Victorian rooming houses

Currently, minimum standards in rooming house accommodation are outlined in several
separate pieces of legislation including residential tenancies, health and building. The
Taskforce found that:

      There was a high prevalence of illegal building works in rooming houses to enable more
       residents to be accommodated and this often resulted in overcrowding
      There was a concern about the adequacy of and compliance with existing standards, in
       particular fire safety provisions
      There was a tension between a desire to increase standards and the capacity of the
       market to respond without widespread closures further compromising residents'
       accommodation options.

Six recommendations were made in relation to rooming house standards:


Recommendation 1

State Government to immediately establish additional legislated minimum standards for
rooming houses, including:

   ·   locks on toilet and bathroom doors
   ·   fire-safe locks on bedroom doors
   ·   provision of a working double power outlets in each bedroom
   ·   window coverings in each bedroom
   ·   fire evacuation plan
   ·   power overload protection

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and amendments will be introduced into the
Residential Tenancies Act 1997 or other appropriate legislation to implement this
recommendation.


Recommendation 2

In conjunction with other recommended reforms, State Government to phase in the
introduction of other additional standards after a new regulatory system is in place, with
consideration given to including as minimum standards:

   ·   periodic gas and electrical safety checks
   ·   appliance upgrades to higher levels of water and energy efficiency
   ·   installation of hard wired smoke detectors in each habitable room
   ·   minimum common areas – living area and kitchen/meals area

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and a project will be initiated to identify
other potential standards and consider the likely impact on rooming house rental affordability
and supply, before phasing in any further standards.




                                                                                                 6
The Recommendations

Improve standards for safety and security in all Victorian rooming houses


Recommendation 3

State Government establish a targeted program for registered rooming house operators to
improve the thermal efficiency of premises and upgrade with more energy and water efficient
fixtures and appliances (e.g. shower heads, insulation, draft-proofing, and the like).

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and a program will be established to improve
thermal, energy and water efficiency in registered rooming houses.


Recommendation 4

State Government to include references into the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to identify
other relevant legislation regarding rooming house standards with which compliance is
required e.g. Health Act 1958, Building Code of Australia, etc., with a view to providing
rooming house operators access to all necessary standards in one identifiable legislation.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will seek to amend the
Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to improve access to and understanding of the range of
legislative provisions that apply to rooming houses.


Recommendation 5

State Government to require rooming house operators to secure a compliance certificate for
Health Act 1958 and Regulations as well as Building Regulations to evidence that premises
meet legislated standards prior to being able to lawfully operate a rooming house in Victoria.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will investigate how compliance
certificates can be developed to demonstrate compliance with the Health Act 1958 (which will
be replaced from 1 January 2010 by the new Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008) and
relevant regulations as part of the registration process. Other measures will also be
investigated to achieve the intent of this objective, for example the public display of a
registration certificate in rooming house premises to demonstrate compliance.


Recommendation 6

State Government to initiate an information campaign targeted at operators, owners and real
estate agents of premises used as private rooming houses so that all parties are aware of their
responsibilities regarding existing standards and their liabilities and penalties where standards
are not met.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and will be implemented in collaboration with
rooming house operators and the Real Estate Institute of Victoria.



                                                                                                 7
The Recommendations


Strengthening compliance and enforcement

The Taskforce identified that:

       The current regulatory regime for rooming houses is difficult for operators, clients,
        advocates and enforcement agencies to navigate
       There is inadequate regulation of rooming houses in several key areas

Eight recommendations were made in relation to strengthening compliance and enforcement
provisions:


Recommendation 7

State Government increase penalties and fines within the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to act
as an appropriate deterrent to at least that equivalent to other comparable legislation
operating in the sector (e.g. the Public Health and Well Being Act 2008).

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and the penalties applying to rooming
houses in the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 will be reviewed and updated.


Recommendation 8

State Government expand the powers of the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria to initiate
investigations and a range of legal actions including compliance action under the Residential
Tenancies Act 1997 in her own right. Where it can be established that it is in the public
interest to address unlawful practices by particular operators, representative actions be
available.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will consider the most
appropriate manner in which to increase the powers of the Director of Consumer Affairs to act
on rooming house operators that are in breach of their responsibilities. This will require
potential complex legislative amendments and clarification will be required of the compliance
and enforcement responsibilities of respective agencies.


Recommendation 9

State Government consider legislative change to allow for third party action to be taken under
the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 in relation to rooming house issues where a representative
body can establish standing before Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. The Government will consider the feasibility
of allowing third parties to take action under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. However, this
would need to be consistent with other government legislation and policy.




                                                                                                8
The Recommendations

Strengthening compliance and enforcement

Recommendation 10

State Government expand the powers of CAV inspectors in respect to rooming houses to
include:

•      providing inspectors with the power to enter non-residential rooms in rooming houses
       for the purposes of assessing compliance with the Residential Tenancies Act 1997
•      delegating powers to investigate alleged breaches under the Health Act and regulations
       with respect to rooming houses when working in conjunction with local government.
       Protocols would need to be developed between CAV, MAV and DHS to around the
       application of this power.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will investigate the most
appropriate manner in which to expand the powers of CAV inspectors to determine compliance
with rooming house provisions under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and Health Act 1958
and regulations.


Recommendation 11

Enforcement agencies to work with homelessness services and tenant advocacy groups to
develop appropriate communication strategies to assist residents to understand enforcement
action and any impact it may have on their residency.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and a project will be initiated immediately to
improve the understanding by rooming house residents of how enforcement action may affect
their residencies.


Recommendation 12

State Government initiate action in collaboration with the Australian Tax Office (ATO),
Centrelink and the Australian Securities Investments Commission to investigate the operations
of unscrupulous rooming house operators, e.g. misuse of resident Centrelink funds; and failure
to declare income.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and a process will be initiated to work with
other agencies to investigate the operations of unscrupulous rooming house operators.


Recommendation 13

State Government to provide fire services (MFB and CFA) with legislative powers to require
immediate rectification action when breaches of fire safety standards are identified in rooming
houses.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and the most appropriate mechanism will be
investigated for providing the fire services with legislated powers to require rectification action.
                                                                                                   9
The Recommendations


Strengthening compliance and enforcement


Recommendation 14

State Government to establish as part of the Estate Agents (Professional Conduct) Regulations
2008 a clear duty for real estate agents to notify local government where they reasonably
believe that a property managed through their agency is being used as an unregistered
rooming house. Real Estate Institute of Victoria to incorporate information regarding rooming
house standards and registration as part of the ethics and property management components
of its continuing professional development training.

Government response

This recommendation is supported by Government and the relevant regulations will be
amended to require estate agents to notify local councils where they reasonably believe a
property they manage is being used as an unregistered rooming house. The Government will
also work with the Real Estate Institute of Victoria to improve agents understanding of rooming
house regulation.




Mandatory registration of operators and premises

With regards to the registration of rooming houses, the Taskforce identified the need for:

      maintaining the existing registration system for rooming house premises as required
       under the Health Act 1958
      strengthened registration provisions
      a new registration system for operators of rooming houses
      a simple system of registration with clear responsibilities
      improved compliance of registration
      access to information about registered rooming houses

Five recommendations were made with respect to improving registration processes for rooming
houses:

Recommendation 15

State Government develop a system of registration for rooming house operators in Victoria
through the Business Licensing Authority. As a result, to operate a rooming house legally in
Victoria premises must be registered with local government and operators must be registered
with State Government. This system will include sanctions against unregistered operators and
reflect increase penalties for non compliance with other applicable legislation operating in the
sector (e.g. the Public Health and Well Being Act 2008).

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and a new registration system for private
rooming house operators will be introduced to complement the existing registration system for
rooming house premises under the Health Act 1958, for which local government is responsible.
In designing the system, the government will consider appropriate criteria to be a rooming
house operator.




                                                                                               10
The Recommendations


Mandatory registration of operators and premises


Recommendation 16

State Government establish a state-wide register of registered rooming houses and provide
this to agencies requiring this information to fulfil their accommodation and housing related
responsibilities.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and will be implemented to ensure
homelessness and enforcement agencies have access to the details of registered rooming
houses across Victoria.


Recommendation 17

State Government lead the development and implementation of a best practice model for local
government registration and compliance of rooming houses.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will work closely with local
government to develop and implement a best practice model for rooming house registration.


Recommendation 18

State Government amend the Housing Establishment Fund Guidelines to require that funding
for crisis housing can only be utilised in legally registered rooming houses. This will be phased
in to coincide with new registration system.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and the Housing Establishment Guidelines
will be amended so that over time only registered rooming houses will be eligible for Housing
Establishment Fund resources.


Recommendation 19

State Government work with the Commonwealth to ensure that deductions from income
support payments (or other forms of statutory assistance) are not directed to operators of
unregistered rooming houses.

Government response

This recommendation is supported by Government and collaboration will take place with
Centrelink to ensure deductions from income support payments are not directed to operators
of unregistered rooming houses.




                                                                                                11
The Recommendations

Increasing the supply of alternative affordable rental housing

The Taskforce identified that to be effective, measures to improve standards in the industry
must be accompanied by supply responses which seek to provide low income households with
alternative accommodation choices. This is vital so that residents in sub-standard rooming
house accommodation have alternative accommodation options that enable them to exit these
rooming houses.

Six recommendations were made with respect to the supply of rooming house type
accommodation:

Recommendation 20

State Government review the current policy position requiring leverage of 25% from registered
housing associations in relation to projects housing clients on very low incomes and/or with
complex needs with a view to establishing a more nuanced policy approach which will facilitate
the development of more community managed housing stock targeting low income singles.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and the leverage policy will be reviewed and
options considered to increase the capacity of registered housing agencies to better respond to
the needs of low income single residents.


Recommendation 21

State Government work with community housing providers and the Real Estate Institute of
Victoria to establish a not for profit managed model of leased rooming houses as an alternative
market option. Such a model would have community based providers establishing small
rooming houses in leased premises offering accommodation at reasonable rents.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and work will commence with the Real Estate
Institute of Victoria and registered housing agencies to develop a $3.125 million leasing
program for not-for-profit rooming houses over three years.


Recommendation 22

State Government develop a package to respond to families with children in housing crisis
which should include:

•      a priority allocation of 200 additional properties to community housing providers as part
       of a one off, time limited, families response
•      assertive outreach to identify families in rooming houses and redirect them to more
       suitable housing responses, including the establishment of flexible, short and medium
       term accommodation for families that maintains their existing networks and supports;
•      targeted brokerage to assist families with low support needs access private rental
       market

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and the work will begin immediately to
implement a $1 million package of support to families with children in rooming houses.
In addition $50 million will be allocated to build 200 new homes for use by families in housing
crisis using funds from the Australian Government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan.

                                                                                              12
The Recommendations


Increasing the supply of alternative affordable rental housing


Recommendation 23

State Government develop a targeted private rental assistance package to help rooming house
residents who are unable to access social housing establish affordable tenancies in the private
rental market. The program would target rooming house residents who are identified as able
to sustain a tenancy with limited assistance in the form of rental information, brokerage, start
up costs and time limited assistance.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and work will begin on developing and
implementing a $2.5 million private rental brokerage program to assist rooming house
residents to establish sustainable tenancies in the private rental market.


Recommendation 24

State Government create new accommodation options by expanding stock levels of not-for-
profit rooming houses through a dedicated singles housing purchase program or new
developments.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will allocate $10.7 million to
support the purchase of additional rooming houses.


Recommendation 25

State Government work with the Commonwealth to prioritise private sector investment
facilitation models which will encourage new approaches to low income singles
accommodation.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will work in collaboration with
the Australian Government to attract private sector investment in singles accommodation.




                                                                                              13
The Recommendations

Managing implementation

The Taskforce considered a range of issues with respect to the implementation of the proposed
recommendations, and acknowledged the following:

      a balance needs to be struck between improving standards for rooming house residents
       and increasing the cost of providing accommodation, as well as the potential for
       rooming house closures
      planning is required for rooming house closures involving government departments,
       local councils and housing providers
      an effective representative industry group will assist in improving the standards of
       accommodation for rooming house residents

Seven recommendations were made with respect to managing the implementation of rooming
house reforms:

Recommendation 26

State Government deliver a clear policy framework and implementation timetable for the
immediate and longer term regulatory changes proposed in this report. Such a timetable
should be framed to allow sufficient time for the rooming house industry to adjust to new
regulatory requirements and for safeguards for residents to be put in place. It should however
be no longer than strictly necessary given the unacceptable practices currently occurring in the
market.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. A detailed implementation plan will be
developed that reflects the Government’s response to the Taskforce recommendations. The
implementation plan will ensure reforms are phased in an appropriate manner to allow the
rooming house industry to adjust to new regulatory requirements.


Recommendation 27

State Government develop protocols for local government to use with homelessness service
providers, other community support services and DHS regions to manage rooming house
closures.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and a project will be initiated in collaboration
with homelessness service providers, other community support services and relevant
Government agencies to plan for potential rooming house closures to minimise any adverse
impacts on residents.




                                                                                             14
The Recommendations

Managing implementation

Recommendation 28

State Government legislate protections for residents to prevent summary eviction by a
property owner where the operator of a leased rooming house defaults on their lease. Such
protections should allow residents to remain in situ until relocation or orderly closure process
can be established by ensuring that the owner of the property is responsible for the continuing
residency arrangements.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will explore the most
appropriate manner to improve protections for rooming house residents and amend the
Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to achieve these protections.


Recommendation 29

State Government explore a range of alternative accommodation responses with the
community sector including:
•      trial of a community hotel model in conjunction with community housing agencies
•      identifying and encouraging opportunities for more innovative uses of Housing
       Establishment Funds to target solutions for private rooming house residents.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Government will work with homelessness
agencies to explore alternative accommodation options and consider these for implementation.


Recommendation 30

State Government continue a dedicated interdepartmental committee to implement the
response to unregistered rooming houses. This committee should develop a strategy for
ongoing engagement with the industry and sector stakeholders who have contributed to the
formulation of this report which includes quarterly updates on progress towards
implementation of these recommendations.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. The Government commits to quarterly
updates to stakeholders through the implementation phase.


Recommendation 31

State Government provide support to the Registered Accommodation Association of Victoria to
develop a revised code of conduct for members in light of the regulatory changes proposed in
this report.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government. Funding will be provided to the Registered
Accommodation Association of Victoria to support its efforts to improve the professionalism of
its members and respond to the Government’s reforms.



                                                                                              15
The Recommendations


Managing implementation



Recommendation 32

State Government establish a pilot community development project targeting residents in
registered rooming house properties in conjunction with the Registered Accommodation
Association of Victoria and relevant community services agencies.

Government response

This recommendation is accepted by Government and funding will be provided to improve
access to mainstream support services by residents living in private rooming houses.




                                                                                          16
Next Steps


The State Government has allocated $77.2 million over 5 years (from 2009-10 to 2013-14) to
adopt all recommendations arising from the Rooming House Standards Taskforce. This includes
funds to buy, build and lease more alternative affordable accommodation so that rooming
house residents have increased options.

The Taskforce reform agenda is broad and an implementation plan is being developed for the
range of new initiatives.

Some recommendations involve complex changes including amendments to legislation which
will follow the required parliamentary process and may include regulatory impact and/or
business impact assessments

 However, indicative timelines will see the following initiatives implemented in the short term
(12 to 18 months):

•      introduce new laws to improve standards of safety and security in all Victorian rooming
       houses (Rec. 1)
•      a $2 million targeted program to improve the thermal, energy and water efficiency of
       rooming houses (Rec. 3)
•      targeted information campaign to rooming house owners and real estate agents about
       laws and requirements (Rec. 6)
•      targeted information campaign to assist rooming house residents to better understand
       enforcement options (Rec. 11)
•      a new statewide rooming house register and mandatory registration of all operators and
       premises (Rec. 16)
•      develop a best practice model for registration and compliance of rooming houses for
       local government (Rec. 17)
•      work with Commonwealth Government to stop unregistered rooming house operators
       accessing deductions from residents’ income support (Rec. 19)
•      establish initiatives to respond to families in rooming houses in the short and medium
       term (Rec. 22 and 29) including $7 million for alternative crisis accommodation; $50
       million for up to 200 new homes for families; and $1 million to provide support for
       families to move out of rooming houses and into the private rental market
      establish a $2.5 million private rental brokerage program to assist residents to establish
       sustainable tenancies in the private rental market (Rec. 23)
•      $10.7 million to build or buy more rooming house accommodation to be run by the
       State Government and not-for-profit registered housing agencies (Rec. 24)
•      $0.075 million to support the Registered Accommodation Association of Victoria to
       improve the code of practice for rooming house operators (Rec. 31) and connect them
       to community services (Rec. 32).




The State Government will finalise its implementation plan for all recommendations by
December 2009.




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