The 1 November summary of cabinet outcomes is now out and informs us the ACT Government is about to work its reverse midas touch on boarding houses:
Cabinet agreed to strengthen regulations governing boarding style accommodation in the Territory. Legislation giving effect to this decision will be prepared. Cabinet’s decision was informed by a community consultation process. Legislative change will aim to uphold community standards and protect the rights of boarders, while not adversely affecting opportunities for legitimate boarding style accommodation.
More information about their plans on the Chief Minister’s website and summarises the key points as:
1. The current arrangements are inadequate to protect occupants and discourage unscrupulous landlords from profiting from vulnerable people.
2. Clear and consistent definitions need to be developed to minimise confusion and ambiguity. In particular it is necessary to define the terms ‘boarding style accommodation’, ‘boarding house’, ‘overcrowding’, ’occupants’ and ‘tenants’ and apply them consistently across legislation. As well, the occupancy principles in the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 need to be strengthened and clarified.
3. There is broad support for a prescriptive definition of ‘overcrowding’ based on mandatory minimum standards.
4. ‘Boarding style accommodation’ will need to be defined in a way that does not inadvertently make subject to the same regulation existing informal models such as share housing and student accommodation or bona fide short term accommodation providers such as ‘backpacker hostels’.
5. Legislation should be cross-referenced to enhance ‘navigability’ and potentially, compliance.
6. There is support for simplifying and strengthening the regulatory framework, in particular for: concentrating powers of inspection and enforcement in one authority; and establishing a registration and accreditation process and a publicly available register.
7. Putting a cap on the total amount of rent that can be charged for a property may remove the incentive for overcrowding.
8. The existing penalty regime needs to be strengthened. Stronger penalties, higher and cumulative fines and proactive inspection and enforcement could be considered, as well as an ‘undue enrichment’ provision.
9. There is a need to provide protection and support to complainants against retaliatory action (i.e. eviction) to encourage proactive reporting of substandard or illegal rental accommodation arrangements. Third party action by a representative body on behalf of occupants could also be considered.
10. Any changes to legislation and regulation will need to be supported by public information and education.
11. Given the lack of affordable accommodation in the ACT, increasing regulation may have the unintended effect of increasing homelessness. To minimise this risk, priority needs to be given to the creation and provision of affordable housing for disadvantaged people.
12. A working group comprising broad stakeholder representation should be established to resolve the identified issues and progress changes.