The Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) provides limited protection for residents (boarders and lodgers) of rooming houses [see ss 103-105W], but only in the following specific circumstances. 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 by the Act, therefore, 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 following pages in this chapter will cover house rules, obligations of proprietors and tenants, rent increases and termination of agreements (including where someone abandons the property) as applicable to rooming houses.
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 South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) 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 and/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; or
- the provision of electricity, gas or telephone services; or
- meals or other facilities or services (e.g. meals, cleaning, laundry) provided by the proprietor.
The proprietor must inform the resident in writing, and before the facilities or services are provided to the resident, of the basis on which the charges will be made [see s 105E(3)]. The rooming house proprietor must also provide an itemised account setting out their use of the facilities or services before requiring payment [Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 105E(4)].
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.
At the request of a resident, a proprietor must, within 7 days, provide a statement to the resident outlining the payment the resident has made, and include information such as the date the payment was received, the amount paid, and whether the payment relates to rent, bond or for facilities and services [see s 105G].
A proprietor must not take or dispose of a resident's property or goods on account of any rent or amount owing to the proprietor. Maximum penalty: $5000 [see s 105T].
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. The bond must then be lodged with the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs within 4 weeks of receipt (if the person receiving it is a registered agent) or within 2 weeks (if the person receiving it is not a registered agent) [see Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 105L; Residential Tenancies Regulations 2010 (SA) reg 9].
Access and use of room and facilities
The proprietor must not unreasonably restrict or interfere with the quiet enjoyment, comfort of privacy 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.
Neither the proprietor nor the resident can alter or remove a lock or security device without the consent of the other; nor can they unreasonably withhold their consent to the alteration or removal of a lock or security device.
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) within their room for use by in securing personal property [s 105O].
Repairs and cleanliness
The proprietor must hand over the room to the resident in a reasonable state of cleanliness, and ensure that that the resident’s room and any shared facilities are kept 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 the resident must notify the proprietor of the defect requiring repair. A proprietor 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 proprietor's consent;
- not keep their room in a condition that would be considered a fire or health hazard;
- not install, alter or remove a lock or security device without the proprietor's consent;
- 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;
- not intentionally cause serious damage to the rooming house.
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 the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) a rooming house agreement can be terminated by a proprietor or resident in a number of different ways.
Specific forms must be used when giving written notice to terminate a rooming house agreement. Copies of the forms can be located on the SA Gov- Forms and Factsheets for Rooming House Tenancies website.
Termination for abandonment, unpaid rent, damage or breach
A rooming house agreement can terminate when:
- the resident abandons* the room (see further below); or
- 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. If the outstanding rent is not paid in the specified period contained in the written notice, the agreement terminates at the end of that period and the resident must vacate on that date;
- 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. The proprietor must give the resident written notice outlining that the agreement has terminated for this reason either immediately or on a specific day. The resident must vacate either immediately or on the specified day, whatever is contained in the notice; or
- a resident breaches the agreement and the proprietor gives them at least seven days written notice to vacate, after which time the agreement terminates and the resident must 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 circumstances where a resident has abandoned a room, the proprietor may seek orders from the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) relating to the date on which the room was abandoned, and any compensation payable as a result of the abandonment.
Termination without reason
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.
Property abandoned by the resident after vacating
Specific rules apply as to what a proprietor can do with property left behind by a resident who has vacated the rooming house.
If the property consists of perishable goods, the proprietor can dispose or destroy the goods at any time after taking back repossession of the room.
If the property consists of other items that are not personal documents, the proprietor must keep the items safe for a period of at least 14 days after repossession of the room has occurred, and must make reasonable attempts to notify the former resident that property has been left behind at the premises. After the 14 days (or more) has passed, the proprietor can dispose of or destroy the items.
If the property consists of personal documents, the proprietor must keep the documents safe for a period of at least 14 days after repossession of the room, and must make reasonable attempts to notify the former resident that personal documents have been left behind at the premises. If the former resident does not reclaim the documents within the 14 day (or more) period, the proprietor can dispose of or destroy the documents after that time.
If the proprietor has incurred reasonable costs in storing the property, they may require the former resident to reimburse them of those costs.
See Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) s 105W.
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