The Act applies to ‘registrable boarding houses’, which the Act defines in two classes. ‘General boarding houses’ are boarding premises that provide beds for five or more residents (not including the proprietor and certain others). ‘Assisted boarding houses’ are boarding premises that provide beds for two or more ‘persons with additional needs’, specifically, persons who are frail-aged, or who have a mental illness or a disability, and who need assistance with daily tasks or personal care.
Most boarding houses in New South Wales will be general boarding houses; the relatively small subsector of assisted boarding houses will be mostly composed of the 30 or so premises currently operating as ‘licensed residential centres’ under the Youth and Community Services Act 1973, which has been repealed and replaced by the new Act. The Act does not apply to premises used as a hotel, motel or backpackers hostel; to premises used by organisations funded to provide refuge or crisis accommodation; or to premises used by educational institutions to provide student accommodation.
Under provisions commencing 1 January 2013, proprietors of registrable boarding houses will have to register their premises and certain other information on a new Boarding House Register maintained by NSW Fair Trading.
After registration, the local council is required to inspect the premises for compliance with building, fire and safety regulations. All registrable boarding houses will be required to comply with the standards for places of shared accommodation under the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005.
The Act’s provisions relating to ‘occupancy agreements’ will commence later in the year. Residents and proprietors who do not have a rental agreement (that is, either a residential tenancy agreement under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010, or a lease under the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1948) will have an occupancy agreement consistent with 12 ‘occupancy principles’ set out at Schedule 1 of the Boarding Houses Act. The Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal will be able to hear disputes and remedy breaches.
Generally, the occupancy principles are more broadly stated than the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act: for example, the principles provide that the resident must know why an occupancy is being terminated and how much notice is to be given (principle 9), and that the period of the notice must be ‘reasonable’ (principle 10), but they do not specifically prescribe any particular grounds of termination, or particular notice periods for different grounds. This means proprietors will have greater flexibility in drafting their occupancy agreements, and there will be greater variation between occupancy agreements than there is between residential tenancy agreements.
Also to commence later in the year are provisions for the authorisation, regulation and monitoring of assisted boarding houses by NSW Ageing, Disability and Home Care. These provisions will replace the defective and insufficient regime of the Youth and Community Services Act.
Housing advocates have welcomed the reforms, and will continue to campaign for law reform for marginal renters who are not covered by the Boarding Houses Act, and for better housing and care services for people with disability.
CHRIS MARTIN is Senior Policy Officer, Tenants’ Union of NSW.