Rooming houses represent the only form of accommodation available to many vulnerable and marginalised Victorians. A person is considered to be experiencing tertiary homelessness if they reside in a rooming house on a medium to long term basis. This is because residents of rooming houses do not have a separate bedroom and living room; they do not have kitchen and bathroom facilities of their own; accommodation is not self-contained; they do not have the security of tenure provided by a lease. Typically, residents pay in excess of $150 per week for rooming house accommodation.
In the past 2 to 3 years, the rooming house market in Victoria has expanded dramatically. Many of the HPLC’s clients live in rooming houses and we have long been concerned that large pockets of the market remain unregistered and unsafe. In particular, the HPLC believes that substandard living conditions relating to fire safety, overcrowding and poor hygiene in rooming houses are the norm and threaten the safety and wellbeing of their residents.
The HPLC has conducted a range of law reform and advocacy projects in relation to rooming houses. These projects include:
- responding to Consumer Affairs Victoria’s Residential Accommodation Issues Paper;
- responding to the Department of Human Service’s Regulatory Impact Statement regarding the alignment of legislative definition of rooming houses; and
- appearing with the Tenant’s Union of Victoria and the Council to Homeless Persons at the Coronial Inquest into the deaths of Leigh Sinclair and Christopher Giorgi.
Coronial Inquest into the deaths of Leigh Sinclair and Christopher Giorgi
Ms Sinclair and Mr Giorgi died when the Brunswick rooming house in which they were staying caught fire in 2006. At the inquest, the HPLC, TUV and CHP sought to highlight sub-standard fire safety conditions and the need for regulatory improvement, accountability and enforcement by the Victorian Government in relation to rooming houses.
On 29 September 2009 the HPLC welcomed the findings of Coroner Peter White into the 2006 deaths of Ms Sinclair and Mr Giorgi. The Coroner has adopted seven out of eight recommendations put forward by the HPLC, TUV and CHP during the inquest.
Key recommendations included:
- that rooming house operators must be licenced and, as a condition of these licences, they must meet a “fit and proper person” test;
- that rooming houses be registered (and meet appropriate standards) if more than one room within a residential premises is offered for rent;
- that Government agencies be given powers of search and entry to ensure that rooming houses comply with appropriate standards; and
- that penalties be increased for rogue operators within the sector, who are putting residents’ security and safety at risk.