Boarding House Kit Launch

(4 August 2011 10.00am, Parkes Room Parliament House)

Hello, everyone, and welcome. I would like firstly to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to Elders past and present. I acknowledge some of our guests here today: Natalie Bradshaw who wrote the kit and Jacqui Swinburne from Redfern Tenants Advice - and everyone involved with Redfern Legal Centre, who have a real commitment to helping people in need.

I understand that we have a couple of boarders who've taken the step to come today to speak about their experience, and I thank them for their bravery.

One of the very first situations I encountered when I was first elected in 1988 was a group of boarding house residents being evicted onto the street early one Friday evening. I have been pushing for reform ever since.

It is telling that we are launching this new resource kit for community workers to help boarders and lodgers and the same circumstances exist now some 23 years later.

Over the years, there have been community campaigns like the Boarders and Lodgers Action Group, and I've taken successive Ministers to see boarding houses, met with them and Fair Trading officers, asked questions in Parliament, and prepared many letters and submissions.

An interdepartmental committee on the Reform of the Shared Private Residential Services Sector was set up in May 2008, but we are yet to see reform.

Tenants and landlords have a specific Act and Regulations that identify rights and responsibilities, with the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal for disputes. Boarders and lodgers don't; nor do the operators.

Residents can be evicted with no notice and there are no common standards for basic things like bonds, rent in advance, facilities, privacy, cleansing or overcrowding.

Disputes may have to go the Local, District or Supreme Court, or could be heard by the CTTT, but you'd have to test jurisdiction first. This could take years and lots of money, and is an absurd situation.

I was pleased that My Lord Mayoral Salary Trust could fund Redfern Legal Centre's Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service to prepare this kit, so that we could work out the complex legal position, present it in plain language and help people sort out problems.

There has been a continuing decline in boarding house numbers since the 1970s. Census data suggests that the number in the City of Sydney LGA may have dropped to about 200.

While they may not be for everyone, unlicensed boarding houses are a vital low cost housing option. Vulnerable people have fewer options and face greater risk of homelessness; and operators face increasing costs that threaten their viability.

I have been calling for reform to keep boarding houses a viable housing option, with occupancy rights, services for vulnerable residents, and Government programs to keep the sector financially viable.

My 1993 legislation to reduce rates and land tax for boarding houses helped reduce operators' costs, and the 2007 Department of Housing Boarding House Accommodation Study recommended this type of support be expanded.

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre's boarding house project supports residents and operators, so that operators are not expected to be welfare workers. The Government should provide ongoing funds for this vital support.

Queensland, Victoria and the ACT have tenancy regulation for boarding houses, and I have repeatedly called for NSW legislation. I intend to introduce a Private Members Bill to provide for "Occupancy Agreements" in NSW, based on the ACT model.

Reform is long overdue for this small but vital housing sector.

Apart from people sleeping rough, boarding house residents are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It is appropriate that we launch this kit during Homelessness Week.

I thank Jacqui and all at Redfern Legal Centre for their work on this project, which ended up being much more complex that you first thought. Thanks also to the Human Rights Law Group at Mallesons Stevens Jacques who provided expert help and have contributed to printing of the kit, especially from Duncan Campbell and Amy Munro.

I will now hand over to Jacqui from Redfern to speak briefly about the kit, and then we will hear from Paul Adabie from Newtown Neighbourhood Centre and some residents who can speak about their personal experience.

Click HERE to view the Boarders and Lodgers Legal Information Kit.