Comment: Boarding Houses Bill 2012


The Tenants' Union of NSW (TU) strongly supports the Boarding Houses Bill 2012. The Bill is a much-needed and long-overdue measure of law reform for the NSW boarding house sector and the people who live in it.

In particular, the TU strongly supports the Bill's provisions relating to occupancy principles and occupancy agreements for boarding house proprietors and residents. These provisions give proprietors an appropriate degree of flexibility in drafting agreements that suit the services they provide, and give residents some basic rights and access to justice.

We also strongly support the Bill's establishment of a new Boarding Houses Register. This will give prospective residents and other members of the public access to relevant information about boarding houses; help ensure that councils identify and inspect boarding houses and enforce building and fire safety requirements; and provide a point for information exchange between government and the boarding house sector.

The Bill makes a number of improvements on the NSW Government's earlier draft Bill, circulated for consultation in June this year. In particular:

  • the loophole about premises that are subject to a tenancy agreement is closed
  • the names of boarding house proprietors will be included on the Register
  • proprietors will be required to provide a written occupancy agreement at the commencement of an occupancy
  • standard forms of occupancy agreements for different classes of agreements, persons or premises may be prescribed by regulation
  • the occupancy principles are effective – it is a term of every occupancy agreement that the occupancy principles apply
  • a new occupancy principle prohibits penalty clauses for breach of house rules
  • a new occupancy principle allows utility charges to be levied on a reasonable basis only
  • a new occupancy principle limits bonds to two weeks' occupation fee
  • a wider range of remedies is available in the Tribunal, including compensation.

The TU commends the Bill to all Members of Parliament. Beyond the present Bill, we encourage the NSW Government to continue reform of the boarding house sector and marginal renting more generally, particularly by:

  • working with stakeholders to develop standard forms of occupancy agreements, to be prescribed by regulation
  • legislating to provide that all persons who rent their housing and who are not otherwise covered by residential tenancies legislation are covered by the occupancy principles and occupancy agreements
  • boosting the Boarding House Financial Assistance Program, in anticipation of increased applications for fire safety grants, and to allow grants for other purposes
  • expanding the Boarding House Outreach Program, to connect boarding house residents to support services in locations throughout the State
  • adopting as government policy the orderly winding up of the assisted boarding house sector, and ensuring that residents have access to appropriate housing and funded support services, provided on a not-for-proft basis.