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Avoid Renting in a Tasmanian Backpackers Hostel

At the end of 2013 I split with my partner and had four days to find accommodation. That was a challenge. At a pinch, I approached one of the local hotels for a room and stayed there for two months (before I practically escaped with my sanity). I handed over $150 bond and four weeks rent to get the room key. There was no lease.

This room was above a music venue so my wooden floor would shake until 1.30-2.00 am on most nights. The party in the backpackers hostel would be rowdy until around 3am. My room was next to the shared shower/laundry; one morning at around 4am a Chinese guy ran past my room and locked himself in a shower stall. Two giggling screaming girls followed – knock, knock, giggle, come out… repeat that for five minutes before I went around and pleaded for mercy.

Yes, it was a total shithole of a place to stay. Beautiful kitchen and bathroom facilities, but the noise within and below the accommodation were appalling. People would wander the halls at 2am and think nothing of yelling down their mobile phone to relatives in the Middle East about something I’ll never comprehend as a single language Australian. And to top that bullshit, the owner would enter the room when I was gone and move things (or take things like my wooden spoon).

Eventually I’d had enough. He didn’t like my girlfriend sneaking in. Naughty me. And as I left with bad feelings it seemed appropriate to approach the Tasmanian Tenants Union for advice. After all, this was a rented room with shared cooking and showering facilities. Given that I’d have defined this as a boarding premises under my naive expectation of Tasmania’s new-fangled and widely lauded Residential Tenancy Act 1997 I’d have expected at least some protections.

A Boarding premises is defined under the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 as a room and any other facilities provided with the room where the room is occupied as a principal place of residence and any of the bathroom, toilet or kitchen facilities are shared with other persons.
But it does not include premises occupied predominantly by tertiary students or TasTAFE student.

In addition, the Act will not apply if the boarding premises contains less than three boarding rooms and the owner occupies the same building or where the tenant occupies the building and subleases out rooms as boarding premises.Tenants Union of Tasmania

These protections would include:

  1. Such accommodation cannot take bond or a security deposit
  2. They cannot take more than two weeks rent at a time
  3. The owner cannot come and go from the room at will in the tenant’s absence

The penalty, for example, for a landlord in this situation taking bond or a security deposit would be $6000. This is an amount to deter bad landlords from breaking the law.

Having rapidly moved from a home owner into the rental market, how naive I was on that score. A later complaint to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading, on advice from the Tenants Union of Tasmania, about the $150 bond this landlord required quickly received the response that the boarding premises in question is completely exempt from the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 under Section 2(b)… “any premises ordinarily used for holiday purposes”.

That roughly means… because it was primarily a backpackers hostel. If I’d boarded in another hotel then I’d have had some tenant’s rights, but not in this situation. And, when you look at the implications for that and vulnerable people on the borderline of becoming homeless, it’s something that people should have been made aware about at the time of renting. Not afterwards. How can legislation give somebody no protections while espousing the wondrous protections it provides?

So I’m not here to bag out the owner of that premises. Although he’s a greedy nasty piece of work. True. I’m here to raise the question as to whether this gives landlords in this situation a green light to treat someone in a similar situation to mine however they hell desire. In his eyes I rented a bed. Nothing more, nothing less.

And when you look at the number of people on the fringes between homelessness and homed there is a vulnerable cohort of tenant in the market that this legislation really should be out to protect. I lived in that situation for two months. It was intended to be for six months or longer. My friend on a permanent visa still lives in one of those rooms and has been a tenant for several years. He deserves legal protections as a tenant.

Of course, we live in a World where if it’s not happening to us it doesn’t count. We don’t care about the homeless. Not really. The problem is easier to fix than you’d expect. We care about ourselves. And who was the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 written to protect? Well, people like us. Normal people. Who can get money and references to rent. And I see that as a social problem.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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