Rooming Houses and Homelessness

2 September 2014
The 2011 Census recorded 4,397 people living in rooming houses as part of Victoria's homeless population and this is thought to be a significant underestimate. Low income Victorians are forced to live in substandard rooming houses because of the acute lack of affordable housing

In 2006 Leigh Sinclair and Christopher Giorgi died in a Melbourne rooming house fire, prompting a Coronial Inquest. The inquest was held in 2008–09 and found that the deaths were preventable and occurred as a direct result of substandard conditions in the rooming house.

During the Coronial Inquest, Homeless Law, Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) and the Tenants Union of Victoria (TUV) presented evidence about the substandard conditions experienced by many residents living in Victorian rooming houses, including widespread safety issues. The Coroner’s report adopted seven of the eight recommendations given by Homeless Law, TUV and CHP.

In 2009, the government established a Rooming House Taskforce and employed an additional 12 Consumer Affairs Victoria inspectors to enforce rooming house standards. The Taskforce’s 2010 report made 32 recommendations, including minimum standards and recommendations for improving the safety and amenity of rooming houses. The minimum standards were introduced in 2011, and became enforceable in March 2013.

In 2012 Homeless Law and TUV also made submissions to a Coronial Inquiry into the January 2008 deaths of three international students in a fire in Footscray.  Homeless Law and TUV submitted that the property was a rooming house, the students were experiencing homelessness and had no other option but to accept the dangerous and over-crowded accommodation.

Homeless Law and the TUV asked for significant changes to improve the safety of housing for vulnerable tenants and rooming house residents.

On Friday, 29 August 2014 Coroner White handed down his recommendations for the inquest and recommended that the Residential Tenancies Act be amended to:

  • require all rented properties be fitted with hard-wired smoke alarms; and
  • require landlords or agents to certify there is a properly installed and working smoke alarm at the beginning of each lease and every year thereafter.

Along with these recommendations the Coroner also recommended further education to be provided to residents and real estate agents on fire safety and their respective obligations to fire safety and smoke alarms in particular.