Plea for help on rooming houses

WORRY: A former Robinvale motel in Ronald Street, which had been converted into a boarding house, was destroyed after an electrical fire in January.RELATED STORY: No easy answer

SWAN Hill council will plead for assistance from the state and federal governments in dealing with the ongoing issue of “rooming houses” in the Robinvale community.

Growing rates of temporary workers in the region has led to an increasingly critical problem of alleged rooming houses.

Some councillors have accused upper levels of government of failing to fulfill a duty of care towards what they say are vulnerable itinerant workers, many of whom are forced into inadequate, unsafe and over-crowded living conditions.

They will ask the different tiers of government to take part in a “coordinated approach” to deal with the issue.

The move follows a number of reports about rooming houses since changes to legislation in 2009 forced local government to play a key role in enforcement and registration of rooming houses.

But council says it does not have the resources to enforce the legislation.

A report presented by council gave an example of an investigation into 20 rooming houses that led to legal costs of $5000, of which just $1500 was awarded.

Just one of the rooming houses was registered.

“[This] highlights that while it may be easy for local residents to identify what appears to be an alleged rooming house, the ability to gather sufficient evidence to prove a premises is operating in that manner is difficult to obtain.

“The challenges faced by the council are reflected across the region and across the state and while council actively enforces the legislation, more may be achieved through a coordinated approach by other tiers of Government and industry.”

Swan Hill Rural City councillor and Robinvale ward representative John Katis said council was being let down by other authorities.

He cited examples of unsafe rooming houses where electric cables were exposed and fuses had nails through them.

“If you have a house with 10 or 15 people living in it and half those people die in a fire, who’s going to pay the liability?” Cr Katis said.

“Council doesn’t have the resources to attend to every call from the public.

“I think we’ve been let down by the government authorities… they need to take more of a role.”

Cr Katis said there was a duty of care when it came to people’s safety.

“They are itinerant and lower income workers who can’t afford housing and there aren’t enough homes that are affordable,” he said.

“The whole public should play a lot more of a role. If you know of one of these houses pick up the phone and report it. Council can only do so much.”

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