On March 8, Victorian Parliament will debate the Rooming House Operators Bill (2015), which if passed, will result in rooming house operators being required to pass a Fit and Proper Persons check.
The Fit and Proper Persons check will ensure that operators (and their associates) who have serious criminal convictions, or multiple breaches against the Residential Tenancies Act, will not be allowed to operate a rooming house. Significant fines will be introduced to apply to people found to be operating rooming houses illegally.
This Bill is the culmination of years of advocacy, including the 2009 “Call this a Home?” campaign of over 40 peak bodies, housing and homelessness organisations and individuals, initiated following the tragic deaths by fire of two people in an illegal rooming house in Brunswick. That rooming house, like many others, was run by people with a history of unscrupulous and exploitative behavior.
Following the “Call this a Home?” campaign, the previous Labor Government initiated the Rooming House Taskforce, chaired by The Hon Martin Foley in 2009-10; and subsequently the Coalition Government introduced minimum standards for rooming houses.
CHP welcomed the new standards, but was conscious that many unscrupulous operators continued to operate both legal and illegal rooming houses with impunity.
This placed thousands of vulnerable people at risk, as in the absence of any other available accommodation, rooming houses have continued to be a referral option for people seeking help from Specialist Homelessness Services who have nowhere else to go.
We have continued to hear stories from consumers and services of exploitative behavior by landlords: people being physically threatened, landlords failing to lodge bonds, and provision of rooming house accommodation that doesn’t comply with the legislated minimum standards. Consumers are rarely prepared to report issues for fear of retaliation, eviction or victimisation by operators.
Even if consumers do pursue their rights and succeed in a court process, penalties for operators are minimal, often left unpaid, and don’t prevent guilty operators from continuing to run rooming houses.
In this context, it has been clear that real change cannot be achieved without regulation directed at operators. We encourage all Victorian Parliamentarians to support the Bill and contribute to creating safer accommodation options for vulnerable Victorians.