Following an investigation into a large ring of illegal boarding houses in the city last week, City Hub has discovered a collection of similarly unauthorised backpacker accommodation in the Bondi Beach area.
While posing as a prospective tenant, a City Hub reporter was shown around a series of overcrowded apartments and houses on Bondi Road, O’Brien Street and Lamrock Avenue that had been sublet to large numbers of backpackers for between $125 and $170 per week.
The properties visited accommodated up to four people in bunk beds in each room. One room combined a kitchen with two sets of bunk beds, resulting in an obvious cockroach infestation and overall lack of safety and hygiene.
One single storey five bedroom house accommodated 16 backpackers. The shared bathrooms appeared unsanitary and the house itself was filthy. A rat ran across the kitchen floor while City Hub inspected the property.
City Hub was told the man who owns the apartments, who goes by the name Thomas, also operates a “large number” of other houses and properties in the Bondi Beach and Bondi Junction area. It appears the man hires backpackers who move in to his properties to manage his boarding houses and ensure all beds are full at all times.
Waverley councillors acknowledged that illegal overcrowding is an ongoing problem in the area, but also noted its frequency has reduced significantly following a crackdown by council last year.
In 2011, Waverley Council conducted an investigation into a large ring of illegal boarding houses operated by a single owner. The investigation resulted in a case heard by the Land and Environment Court, which ordered the operator to stop using his properties as backpacker accommodation immediately.
When the operator did not comply, Waverley Council launched another case against the operator in th NSW Land and Environment Court, this time for contempt of court. Waverley Council won the case in June of 2013.
Waverley Councillor Ingrid Strewe said this case demonstrated to all operators that Waverley Council would go to great lengths to stop homeowners in the area from creating illegal backpacker housing.
“That court case has become well-known in the area and people now know council is prepared to go to those lengths to protect the neighbours and protect the people being housed in substandard conditions,” Cr Strewe said.
“The problem is not as bad as it once was in Waverley because we managed to set up very effective processes to deal with it.”
Councillor John Wakefield said he also feels council’s response to the problem has helped reduce danger to residents but does feel it is an ongoing issue in the area.
“Illegal backpacker accommodation is a continuing issue in Bondi and Waverley,” Cr Wakefield said.
“However, because of the crackdown by council it impacts on residents less.”
“What we have noticed is the type of illegal backpacker rental in Bondi has become more upmarket. We are seeing fewer people per house and less dangerous living conditions.”
Councillor Bill Mouroukas told City Hub he also feels the problem has been largely solved in the Waverley area.
“I haven’t had anyone approach me about this issue in recent times, I think it has been largely dealt with.”
While Waverley Council is using the Land and Environment Court to take action against operators, the City of Sydney continues to cite lack of council powers for their inability to police this issue.
“The City urged the NSW Government to consider giving council officers greater powers to investigate and enforce breaches of the (Environmental Planning and Assessment) Act,” said a City of Sydney spokesperson.
An illegally overcrowded boarding house on Quarry Street in Ultimo has still not been inspected by the City of Sydney Council as of July 22, despite a series of reports released last week regarding this property and several others involved in the same operation.
A series of media reports including an investigation by City Hub revealed that the operator of the Quarry Street property was continuing to run illegal boarding houses despite the fact the operation was reported on two separate occasions in May of this year.
While posing as a prospective tenant, City Hub was told the Quarry Street property was still operational housing approximately 50 people on July 22. It appears neither the City of Sydney nor Fire and Rescue NSW have inspected the property as a result of last week’s reports.
A resident of the property who preferred not be named said no one had come to inspect the property in the last week.
City Hub returned to a property on Regent Street in Chippendale, which was also the subject of last week’s investigation, and can confirm the apartment was also still functioning as an illegal boarding house as of July 19.
When asked whether action had been taken in response to complaints about these properties, a City of Sydney spokesperson said: “The City of Sydney takes all complaints seriously and we currently have more than 65 investigations underway.”
The spokesperson also said the City cannot comment on ongoing investigations.