The Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) provides some protection for residents (boarders and lodgers) of rooming houses [see ss 103-105W]. A rooming house is defined as rooms that are available for a residential purpose on a commercial basis for at least three people [see Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 3]. Boarding arrangements in private homes would only be covered if there are three or more boarders. There are no proposals for this Act to cover other boarders and lodgers and the only relevant law is the common law, see Boarders and lodgers.
The proprietor of a rooming house may make rules about the conduct of the residents. These rules must be in writing [Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s105A]. The rooming house proprietor must ensure that the rules are displayed in a prominent place in the premises and provide a copy on request to any resident or prospective resident [s 105D]. However, if a copy is requested within two months of one being provided previously a further copy does not need to be issued, but a copy must be made available for inspection.
These rules will only be valid to the extent that they are made for the health and safety of the residents or the safety of property. A rooming house proprietor may make amendments to the house rules. These must also be in writing and they do not take effect until each resident of the rooming house has been given 7 days written notice of the change [s 105B].
If a resident believes a house rule to be unreasonble they can make an application to the Residential Tenancies Tribunal for a declaration confirming this. If the Tribunal makes an order that the rule is unreasonable the house rule becomes void. A proprietor who fails to comply with a Tribunal order to amend a house rule is guilty of an offence with a maximum penalty of $2 500 [s 105C].
Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) a rooming house proprietor has the following obligations.
Rent and other charges
A rooming house proprietor must not receive extra payments (other than rent or a bond) as a condition to entering into, renewing or extending a rooming house agreement.
Whilst a rooming house proprietor must bear all statutory charges in relation to the premises they can require residents to make payments for:
- rates and charges for water supply;
- the provision of electricity, gas or telephone services;
- meals or other facilities or services (e.g. meals, cleaning, laundry) provided by the proprietor.
The rooming house proprietor must inform the resident in writing of the charges and provide an itemised account setting out their use of the facilities or services before requiring payment [Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 105E].
A proprietor cannot demand more than one weeks rent in advance [s 105F]. Nor can they require a resident to pay by post-dated cheque.
A rooming house proprietor cannot require more than one bond for the same rooming house agreement nor can they require the payment of a bond which totals more than two weeks of rent under the agreement [s 105K].
A receipt must be provided within 48 hours of payment. This bond must then be lodged with the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs [s 105L].
Access and use of room and facilities
The proprietor must not unreasonably restrict or interfere with the quiet enjoyment of facilities or the resident’s room by the resident. They must ensure that the resident has reasonable access at all times to their room and to toilet and bathroom facilities.
When exercising their right of entry to the resident’s room, they must do so in a reasonable manner and not stay in the room longer than necessary to achieve the purpose of entry without the resident’s consent.
A proprietor who breaches any of these terms is guilty of an offence for which the maximum penalty is $2 500 [s 105N].
It is a term of a rooming house agreement that a proprietor take reasonable steps to provide and maintain locks and other devices necessary to ensure each resident can make his/her room reasonably secure
The proprietor cannot alter or remove a lock or security device without the consent of the resident; nor can they unreasonably withhold their consent to the alteration or removal of a lock or security device by the resident.
The proprietor has an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure the security of personal property and to that end must provide each resident with a lockable cupboard (or something similar) for use by in securing personal property [s 105O].
Repairs and cleanliness
The proprietor must ensure that the resident’s room and any shared facilities are in a reasonable state of repair and cleanliness. If renovations are to be carried out, at least 14 days notice must be given. Where repairs are required to shared bathroom, toilet or laundry facilities the proprietor must minimise any inconvenience or disruption to residents and, if necessary, provide temporary substitute facilities.
Where repairs are required notice must be given to the proprietor. They will not be found to be in breach of their obligation to repair if they were not notified of the defect [s 105P].
Sale of rooming house
If the proprietor intends to sell the rooming house they must give the residents written notice no later than 14 days after entering into a sales agency agreement. The rooming house cannot be advertised for sale or made available for inspection by prospective purchasers until 14 days after the residents have been notified of the intention to sell [s 105Q].
Under a rooming house agreement a resident must:
- pay the rent when it is due;
- abide by the house rules;
- not use the rooming house for an illegal activity;
- not keep an animal on the premises without the owner’s consent;
- not keep their room in a condition that would be considered a fire or health hazard;
- notify the proprietor of damage to the premises or property provided by the proprietor for use by the resident;
- allow the proprietor reasonable access to their room.
See Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 105R.
If a proprietor wishes to increase the rent they must provide written notice stating the date that the increase takes effect. However, a proprietor may be prohibited from increasing rent if the right to do so has been excluded or limited by the terms of the rooming house agreement. Where accommodation is to be provided for a fixed term the rooming house agreement is taken to exclude an increase in rent during this time unless there is a specific term allowing for an increase.
Where a rent increase is allowed it must be at least six months after the date of the rooming house agreement or, if there has been a previous rent increase, the date of the last rent increase. Four weeks notice must be given of the increase [Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 105I].
Under section 105U of the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) termination can occur when:
- the resident abandons* the room;
- rent is outstanding for more than two rental periods or two weeks (whichever is the lesser) and written notice has been provided to the resident given at least two clear days to pay;
- the resident or their visitor causes serious damage, or creates a danger to a person or to property, or seriously disrupts the peace, privacy or quiet enjoyment of another resident;
- a resident breaches the agreement and the proprietor gives them seven days written notice to vacate.
* A resident will be taken to have abandoned a room if:
- the Tribunal makes a declaration under section 105V; or
- the rent payable under the agreement has remained unpaid for at least seven days, and
the proprietor has made reasonable efforts to contact the resident without success, or
has been advised by the resident that the room is abandoned.
In the case of a periodic agreement, a proprietor may terminate for no reason with four weeks written notice.
In the case of a periodic agreement, a resident may terminate for no reason with one days notice.
If a resident abandons a room in a fixed term rooming house agreement of 6 months or more, they may be liable for costs caused by the abandonment , however the proprietor mst take reasonable steps to mitigate any loss [see ss 105V (3)-(4)].
Termination based on abuse of a rooming house resident
Where an intervention order is in force against a rooming house resident an application may be made to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for an order to either terminate or replace the existing rooming house agreement [s 105UA(1)]. The Tribunal must be satisfied that the intervention order is for the protection of the applicant or a domestic associate of the applicant who normally resides in the rooming house.
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