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“IT’S LIKE LIVING IN HELL” – shocking conditions in rooming houses in Melbourne’s South East

October 14, 2020

Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) has released a new report which sheds light on the little known and often shocking conditions in private rooming houses across Melbourne’s southeast.

Rooming house residents surveyed by PCLC’s rooming house outreach program paint a picture of woeful living conditions that would shock most Victorians, particularly given that some are located right next to some of Melbourne’s wealthiest postcodes in south east Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. This is what residents had to say:

“It’s like living in hell….Rough sleeping is cheaper and safer…. Help me to get out of here…..The roof is falling apart….Things are broken and they don’t get fixed. The toilet is broken – not flushing, the shower water doesn’t drain properly and there’s no hot water….Mould is everywhere….There are bed bugs in the mattress….The windows don’t close….There is blood on the walls from when I first moved in….”

 The Centre, which has offices in Frankston, East Bentleigh, Rosebud, and Cranbourne, has a specialist rooming house outreach program which covers the south east region where more than 800 privately run rooming houses are registered. The report found overcrowding and woefully poor standards of hygiene and repair in over 40% of private rooming houses visited by the outreach team.

“We’re seeing more and more people who have lost their jobs and their homes winding up in overcrowded rooming houses with filthy shared bathrooms, broken stoves forcing them to cook in their bedrooms, rodent droppings in the cupboards, and broken locks on their door. This is what daily life looks like for too many rooming house residents across Melbourne’s south east and the Mornington Peninsula,” said Jackie Galloway, PCLC’s CEO.

 Rooming houses have long been associated as rundown properties operated by unscrupulous owners exploiting vulnerable and disadvantaged tenants. While the government has initiated various measures over the past decade to crack down on unscrupulous operators and to better regulate the sector by establishing minimum standards, too many are still living in overcrowded and dangerous conditions.  And despite the stereotype that rooming houses provide cheap accommodation, the report found that over half the residents surveyed are struggling with unaffordable rents and are paying as much as 50 – 60% of their already low income for the “privilege” of living in such places. In the residents’ own words:

“You can’t afford to live here and eat….I’m paying $250 per week for a room that’s smaller than a prison cell. How is this legal?….You could be living with a murderer or rapist. As long as the owners get their money they don’t care….You never know who you’re living with. I’ve had two sex offenders living with me….(the) druggies and alcoholics want to argue and fight….when they are doing drugs trouble starts happening…. This was originally only a 4 bedroom house. The owner thinks she can stack people on top of each other”.

Often the appalling conditions are in breach of minimum standards and a fit and proper person licensing test put in place by the government to clean up the rooming house sector over the past 8 years, but too often dodgy operators are getting away with providing sub-standard facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic and the threat to public health posed by overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions has also thrown the inadequacy of the current system into stark relief.

“There has been a lot of effort invested in trying to fix problems in the rooming house sector but we’re still seeing the same problems we’ve been seeing for many years. The effectiveness of the rooming house regulatory and enforcement system needs to be reviewed. Ten people sharing a filthy bathroom is no longer acceptable in a COVID-19 world. The minimum standards need to be raised, and there needs to be greater effort to hold dodgy operators to account,” Ms. Galloway said.

A key aim of the report was to give a voice to rooming house residents, who normally lead hidden lives on the margins of society, and to communicate their experiences to government and the broader community. Here is more of what they had to say:

“Rooming houses are a shambles, a mess, an idea gone wrong. The rooming house model is broken……….It is no way of life in the long term. These places drag you down…. ….I can’t wait to get out of here….I want to get stable, decent accommodation so I can have access with my kids again…….People in rooming houses come from all different echelons of society, but being in a rooming house labels them with a particular societal identity….Put more services in – people in rooming houses are castaways. We need more support….. We are not statistics we are human beings…..This is inhumane, you lose your self-respect. You lose hope. “

Click here to access the full report: Open the Door – The Residents View of life in a Rooming House

DATE: 9 October 2020

CONTACT: Kirsten Young, Community Engagement Officer

Peninsula Community Legal Centre – 9783 3600



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