Crowded houses

WIDESPREAD community concerns about illegal boarding houses operating in Maffra and Sale are being investigated by Wellington Shire Council officers.

Concerns of houses being packed to overcrowding with foreign workers employed by labour-hire companies supplying large horticultural businesses in the district have been rife for a number of years.

Confirmation of expressed concerns that a number of the workers have been illegally working has come from infrequent raids by Immigration Department officials, with those detained deported to a number of destinations including Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Melbourne media on Wednesday linked up to 10 properties to landlords letting houses to labour hire companies, with allegations these companies deducted excessive rent from the labourers’ wages.

Wellington Shire Council confirmed to the Gippsland Times there are three registered rooming houses in Wellington Shire.

General manager development John Websdale explained each registered property had its own occupancy limits which were determined by the size of the individual property and the type of fire safety measures provided, such as emergency lighting and hard wired smoke alarms.

“Following receipt of anonymous concerns of a premise operating as an unregistered rooming house in mid 2013, council officers inspected the property and confirmed that was the case.

“On February 28, following a number of inspections to monitor progress of the works required to obtain registration, the premise at 18 Alfred St, Maffra was granted registration having been found to comply with all associated regulations.”

As a registered rooming house the property is subject to periodic council inspections.

When inspected on July 3 the property was found to be compliant with regulations under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.

“Council does not endorse overcrowding within any rooming house in the municipality,” Mr Websdale said.

“All registered rooming houses are subject to periodic inspections.”

He said council was actively enforcing the regulations, issuing infringements and penalties where appropriate.

“All unregistered rooming houses brought to the attention of council by the Weekly Times are now under investigation and we are actively seeking compliance from each of them,” Mr Websdale said.

“Unregistered rooming houses pose challenges for council to manage; only when a report is received may we become aware that an illegal rooming house is operating.

“We may not be aware if property owners are in breach of their responsibilities regarding occupancy limits on specific days.

Mr Websdale assured the Gippsland Times all reports received by council were investigated.

“We encourage anyone with information to come forward and advise us in order for us to do so.”

He explained boarding fees and charges were determined by an individual rooming house’s proprietor and that council had no influence over fees, nor how those fees were charged.

“Whilst it is council’s responsibility to monitor and ensure compliance of rooming houses in Wellington, it is not council’s business to provide housing for seasonal overseas workers.

“Where businesses have sought assistance from council in relation to housing for overseas workers, council has acted to provide support and continues to do so,” Mr Websdale said.

“The agricultural industry is the driving force behind the demand for housing for seasonal overseas workers. Council encourages those businesses to work with private sector accommodation operators to ensure that their employees are adequately housed in safe accommodation.”