City News

No place to call home

Potts Point: a retrospective development application on a boarding house failed multiple criteria. Photo: Alec Smart

By ANDREW WOODHOUSE

The City of Sydney Council has refused a development application (2019/674) for a boarding house at 170 Victoria Street, Potts Point.
The application was lodged by the developer’s builders.
The planner’s report was scathing. Putting it politely, they noted: “The site has recently been used as a boarding house without development consent … The site is subject to ongoing compliance action … The current application seeks to regularise the use of the building for the purposes of a six-room boarding house.”
In other words, the developer sought to retrospectively gain a back-door DA approval.

The planners didn’t stop there, as the Council noted: “Insufficient information has been submitted to demonstrate that the proposal would receive sufficient solar access … room 4 is too small; only 9.5 square metres … It has not provided sufficient architectural details to demonstrate the alterations will not adversely impact on the heritage significance of the existing terrace … 2 of the 6 rooms should be provided with a private open space … the proposal is therefore not recommended for approval … the proposal has failed to demonstrate design excellence.”

But wait, there’s more
And more still: “insufficient information is provided to demonstrate that the design of the associated alterations will complement and improve the … streetscape of the heritage conservation area.”
“It would not be possible to provide fully accessible accommodation without significantly, and irreversibly impacting the fabric of the existing terrace … within a conservation area.”
So the Council threw the book at this DA. “The en-suite and kitchenette provided to room 4 are also insufficiently sized to meet the requirements of this section … Two communal open spaces … do not achieve the minimum dimensions required or other design requirements.”
And the Council heaped the kitchen sink on the DA as well: “it is considered necessary to demonstrate space for the provision of separate laundry tub(s) to ensure compliance…”.

Wait, there’s more: “the submitted acoustic report has not demonstrated acceptable acoustic amenity … a waste management plan has not been submitted … A heritage impact statement prepared by a suitably qualified person has not been submitted … scaled drawings no smaller than 1:50 [have] not been submitted for the proposed front dormer … shadow diagrams, or alternative forms of solar access study, have not been submitted.”
This DA should be studied by every student town planner in Planning 101: How NOT to Lodge a DA.
Neighbours expect an appeal with amended plans to be lodged.

A July 2019 report by the UNSW Human Rights Clinic, “No Place Like Home: Addressing Exploitation of International Students in Sydney’s Housing Market” discovered boarding house exploitation including bond issues, deceptive conduct by landlords, lack of written contracts, unfair evictions, poor living conditions and discrimination.
Complaints have been made to Sydney Council about 170 Victoria Street continuing to trade illegally despite the DA rejection. An open site inspection occurred last Monday with rooms for lease for $330 per week, confirmed by an agent’s assistant, Helen Jutsen, and their on-line website. This isn’t the first time Sydney Links Real Estate, acting for the site’s owners, has had run-ins with council. They were in trouble over illegal uses at 27 Roslyn Street, a major NSW Land and Environment Court case, and 16 Kellet Street, and now 194 Victoria Street. In the last instance, a DA is under consideration for a boarding house use but is not yet approved. The agents are already inviting tenants to sign a lease.

Need to target operators
Five years ago, the City Hub, in an undercover exposé, highlighted problems in Ultimo. Council sought an injunction and brought in the NSW Police Force.
Councillor Christine Forster told City Hub at the time that action against this practice needed to target operators first and foremost.
And in 2015, Mayor Clover Moore announced the details of an extensive investigation into illegal accommodation. A special multi-agency team, including former members of Scotland Yard, the Australian military police, NSW police and the Australian Tax Office, compiled information on illegal sites. This resulted in 20 search warrants granted and executed across Sydney in six weeks. Council also ran a campaign advising students about safe rental choices.

Examples of illegal property use and safety issues found by council included a three-bedroom house with 58 beds and 19 illegally-constructed bedrooms, cockroach infestations, disconnected smoke detectors, bedrooms with no natural lighting or ventilation, collapsed ceilings, landlords threatening to steal tenants’ personal items and refusing bonds.
Clover Moore said “We will also focus our resources on those who take advantage of vulnerable people … we want to send out the strong message: We are coming after you.”

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