CHANGES to legislation governing rooming houses to make local councils the responsible authority and not the state government would be welcomed by Frankston council.
Ideally, the changes would give the council greater control over the building, siting, management, licencing and accommodation standards of the contentious premises.
But, until the longed-for new rules are brought in – which may not be any time soon – many rooming house operators will continue to fly under the radar offering over-priced accommodation to homeless low-income earners – many with mental issues – whose presence in the neighbourhood often intimidates and infuriates residents.
Anecdotal reports of mental health patients being released into Frankston’s low-cost housing because they have nowhere else to go are common. Once there they can be victimised and exploited by greedy landlords.
Former mayor Cr Colin Hampton said the council – and the Municipal Association of Victoria – was actively lobbying the government for a greater say in managing rooming houses.
“I have advocated since 2009 – and I took it to the state Labor government’s Community Cabinet – that there is a strong case to licence rooming houses and to make them the responsibility of local government,” he said.
“If the council had control we would make on-site and active management a priority and that would get rid of most of the problems.”
Cr Hampton said issues with rooming houses were caused by “politicians shirking their responsibilities”.
“We used to have [state-run] institutions to care for the unstable and ill-at-ease, such as Ararat and Larundel, but now these people have been pushed out onto the streets to save the government money.
“Not that all rooming houses have mentally ill people, but they do have many, and they are mostly victimised and living in squalid conditions.”
Cr Glenn Aitken said the council was “united in dealing with the rooming house issue”. He said Frankston had met with nearby councils, including Casey, Dandenong, Kingston and Mornington Peninsula, to “compare notes” on rooming houses and discuss a possible approach to the state government.
“We have the power to monitor unruly behaviour but we are hamstrung by imperfect legislation and we are the ones left to clean up the mess left by greedy operators.
“We want legislation enacted to allow the council to handle planning applications and aspects of their management, with a failure to comply ensuring their licence is lost … so the operators know they are on notice and we are watching them. Many are simply hogs at the trough.”
Deputy mayor Cr Rebekah Spelman said the community “would be a lot better off” if the council had the power to licence rooming houses – rather than the state government. “At the moment we are pretty powerless,” she said, conceding that, while Frankston North had an oversupply of rooming houses “they have to go somewhere”.
Operators can use loopholes in the law to set up shop and exploit the present high demand for beds by building houses with fewer than 10 bedrooms – which only require a building permit – and not a complicated planning permit for houses with more bedrooms.
A petition calling for a review of a house at 17 Finlay St and “associated issues” was considered by councillors at their last meeting – but under current rules there is little they can do.
The mayor Cr Darrel Taylor said council officers had spoken to the owners and managers of the building who said it would be used by professionals and students. This information has been passed on to the petitioners.
“The legislation does not require onsite management of rooming houses, licensing or accommodation standards to ensure adequate living standards for residents and minimal impact on neighbours,” he said.
“Changes to legislation requiring owners to be more accountable would be welcomed by local government.”