An undercover investigation by City Hub has revealed that a large ring of illegal boarding houses in Chippendale remains operational despite it being exposed in July of this year.
The illegal operation featured on the front page of The Daily Telegraph, on ABC’s 7.30 Report and in the pages of City Hub, but it appears it has not been shut down despite this extensive media attention.
The boarding houses are managed out of a supermarket in Chippendale. The “agency”, as it was described to City Hub by a resident, is believed to operate over 100 apartments with between 12 and 18 people housed in each.
In one instance, a two-bedroom unit housing 18 people, including four in the living room, was offered to City Hub for $110 per week.
Each apartment had 3 sets of bunk beds cramming 6 people into tiny bedrooms, with barely any floor space between them. Many apartments had tenants sleeping in living rooms and on balconies. The apartments were filthy and appeared to be housing rats and cockroaches as well as overcrowded tenants.
The agency, operating out of the back room of the supermarket, allegedly hires travellers and residents to manage the apartments. The agency instructs these managers to ensure the apartments are at capacity at all times and ensure rent is paid in cash to the supermarket each fortnight.
“None of this is legal,” one manager told a City Hub reporter posing as a prospective tenant.
“It is illegal and dangerous. That’s why we have to do everything in cash.”
The manager went on to explain that his negative experiences with the agency had made him decide to leave Sydney for good.
The supermarket, identified by various media outlets in July, has since changed its name.
The City of Sydney Council is currently undertaking 82 separate investigations into overcrowded accommodation, but is unable to comment on these ongoing investigations.
According to a council spokesperson, council officers cannot enter a premise to inspect it unless they are granted permission by the property owner. If entry is refused, council has to give notice of inspection, allowing the tenant and owner time to remove evidence of wrongdoing.
A manager of one of the Chippendale apartments confirmed, when speaking to an undercover City Hub reporter, that they are told by management to remove beds from the apartments and hide evidence of overcrowding when council officers come to inspect the property.
The City responded to the uncovering of the boarding houses by petitioning the NSW Government for expanded council powers to deal with housing issues.
“The City of Sydney is committed to the safety of our visitors and, for many years, has unsuccessfully lobbied successive State Governments for increased authority to take action about overcrowding and illegal accommodation. But successive State Governments have failed to respond,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in July of this year.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Planning told City Hub it is investigating this possibility.
“Local councils have extensive and strong powers under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act to take enforcement action.”
“The NSW Government is currently investigating ways to strengthen these enforcement powers and those of the Land and Environment Court.”
Due to a resident complaint earlier this year, council was able to gain entry to an overcrowded property on Quarry Street in Ultimo that is believed to be managed by the supermarket in question.
Council has successfully evacuated the property.
“The Quarry Street property was evacuated and locked-up,” a City spokesperson said.
“Legal proceedings have been undertaken by the City against the property owner in respect to the illegal use of the property. “
A resident of the Chippendale apartment complex told City Hub during the investigation that he felt his living situation was the result of a broader housing affordability problem in Sydney.
“Housing is too expensive in Sydney and this is what happens. This is the pay-off for living in Sydney; this is just what you have to put up with if you want to live here on a regular wage.”
The Lord Mayor agreed Sydney is facing an affordability crisis.
“The desirability of property in Sydney has made it, like London and Paris, one of the most expensive property markets in the world,” said the Lord Mayor.
She continued: “An innovative affordable housing levy program established by the City in Green Square has seen more than 100 affordable housing units built. We want the State Government to allow us to extend the levy to other areas in the city – so far our request has been refused.”
The NSW Government said it is taking action on this issue.
“The best way to make housing more affordable is to ensure there is adequate supply to meet the growing demand for new homes,” a Department of Planning spokesperson said.
“More than 52,500 new homes were approved in the 12 months to August – the highest since the 12 months to May 2000.”