Inner West Independent

Council to review boarding house framework after tragic Newtown fire

Newtown

A fire at a Newtown boarding house earlier this year killed three people. Photo: Fire and Rescue NSW.

By PATRICK MCKENZIE

Inner West Council will discuss a revised boarding house inspection regime at a meeting on Tuesday evening, in the wake of the March fire at Albermarie Boarding House in Newtown which claimed three lives.

The review, prepared by Council Environmental Health & Building Regulation Manager Peter O’Connor, offers an extensive report on a decline in the operational standard of the over 250 registered boarding houses across the LGA.

The report discusses recent changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and Regulations, which removed the role of the Council Fire Safety Officer in the Annual Fire Safety Statement (AFSS) process.

An AFSS is required of all registered boarding houses and indicates that fire safety measures that apply to a building have been inspected by a competent fire safety practitioner.

The review also includes a letter written by mayor Darcy Byrne to the NSW Minister for Planning and Homes Anthony Roberts, requesting assistance with “an audit of the quality of boarding house accommodation”.

Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne. Photo: Facebook.

The audit would also be followed by “a program of improvement in the living conditions for these most vulnerable members of our community”. 

Cr Byrne also called attention to the Albermarie fire in the letter, writing: “This horrific tragedy, in which three of our residents were killed, has shone a light on critical safety issues and exploitation of tenants in boarding house accommodation.”

In response, Deputy Secretary of Planning Policy Brett Whitworth said the Department would “consider the issues raised as part of our ongoing monitoring of the operation of the Housing SEPP”. 

Council revealed that since 2020, it had received 58 complaints of various types connected with shared accommodation. The complaints were said to be often associated with health and hygiene, quality or type of construction or lack of adequate fire safety measures.

The review concludes by discussing the workload of the Inner West Council staff who are tasked with attending to boarding house inspections.

While the staff had reported no need to pursue “entry [to the premises] via other powers,” there are several in the area that are unregistered and lacking development consent and are at risk of overcrowding and fire dangers.

Council will recommend a continued “partnership approach from NSW Government State Agencies in order to assist boarding house residents in securing safe and healthy accommodation”. 

Ongoing recovery efforts in Newtown

This comes on the evening of Newtown Neighbourhood Centre’s fifth ‘Newtopian sleepout’ event, which is being supported by council.

Participants have been encouraged to raise $1,500 each, by sleeping out on the street for an evening to “experience the challenges that come with rough sleeping and gain deeper insight and appreciation of what a day in the life of a rough sleeper might be like”. 

Returning participant Carmel, reflecting on her previous experience with the event, said that it was “heart-warming to see so many people who really care about homelessness in our community and are motivated to take a real stand to change things”. 

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre previously ran an appeal specifically for residents of Albermarie Boarding House, raising $35,000 to successfully give six survivors of the fire new housing.

Related Posts