Lane Cove North Boarding House Proposals Hit A Snag

A Developer submitted Development Applications to build two six-storey boarding homes at 47 and 51 Mindarie Street Lane Cove North.  The owner of 49 Mindarie Street Lane Cove North was approached on numerous occasions by the developer and they refused to sell.

The Developer submitted the boarding houses would address the demand for affordable housing in the lower north shore.

New Generation Boarding Houses

Boarding houses have evolved and now there is the new generation of Boarding houses. The State Government introduced the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2009 (AHSEPP) with the aim of increasing the supply and diversity of affordable and social housing.

The three main components of the AHSEPP were:

  • To allow boarding houses in a number of residential and mixed-use zones;
  • To permit ‘secondary dwellings’ as a complying development category in residential zones; and
  • To provide floor space bonus incentives where affordable units are included as part of residential flat building development.

Developers were keen on new generation boarding houses as the space bonus included increased floor space usually around 20%, over what is otherwise permitted for residential flat/unit developments.

49 and 51 Mindarie Street Proposals

Numerous locals (including the Stringybark Creek Residents Association) objected to the developments on the basis that it was out of character with the surrounding developments, would lead to overcrowding and traffic issues.

The Lane Cove Council approved the development on the basis of some alterations, however as the development received 10 or more objections it had to be referred to the Lane Cove Local Planning Panel.

The Lane Cove Planning Panel unanimously voted against the development at 49 Mindarie Street.   The Panel accepted that the site may be developed with a boarding house.  However, this application was denied as it was out of local character.  The development application for 51 Mindarie Street was not refereed to the panel.

The Developer could lodge a new plan with a scaled-down building and fewer units.

Are boarding houses a solution to affordable housing?

In 2019 the City Futures Research Centre at the University of New South Wales conducted a survey of recent boarding house developments. The survey found that occupants of boarding houses were more aligned in profile to renters than those “traditional boarding house occupants on social housing waitlists”.

The researchers further found that recent boarding houses were “not a particularly affordable housing option” and were being developed as “micro-apartments” rather than an affordable housing solution.

There is no requirement to set boarding fees at an affordable rent and thus be truly classified as affordable housing.  There are maximum tariffs set by Revenue NSW. If rates fall under this maximum amount owners are exempt from paying land tax. If owners charge above the threshold, they are required to pay land tax.

In 2017 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that several councils were not happy with the Boarding House planning laws.  They quoted the Canada Bay Mayor who said developers “were trying to exploit the policy” for financial gain, and said the council had “limited capacity to refuse development applications” providing developers complied with the minimum standards prescribed by the policy.

Unregistered Boarding Houses

All boarding houses are to be registered with the Department of Fair Trading.  Lane Cove Mayor Pam Palmer tabled a Mayoral Minute at the Lane Cove Council’s September 2019 meeting which stated:

“The creation of a Boarding House Register was one of the initial key requirements of the Boarding Houses 2012 Act. It clearly outlined both General and Assisted boarding houses had to register prior to operation. Previous to this new initiative there was no existing state-wide register and data collection varied across councils. However, many properties remain unregistered, and many properties are operating as a boarding house without any formal notification nor registration with Local Government.

There appears currently to be a variety of reasons presented for the non-registration of boarding houses. These can involve operators simply being unaware of the requirement to register their boarding house with Fair Trading. However, of more concern there are just as many owner/operators who desire non detection possibly in order to evade close scrutiny and oversight.

Whilst the Register is hosted by Fair Trading, responsibility for enforcing the registration requirement was handed to Councils with no additional resources offered.”

The Lane Cove Council resolved to:

  • remind boarding house operators of their obligations, possibly as part of the development application process/conditions of consent;
  • lobby the State Government, including through LGNSW to:-
    • Improve compliance of boarding house operators with their obligations to register, possibly through better education or through new regulations;
    • Ensure that boarding house fees are transparently advertised to include reference to the maximum tariffs set by Revenue NSW; and
    • Change the land tax exemption provisions to ensure they are enforceable.

The future of Boarding Houses in Lane Cove

There are several boarding houses already in the Lane Cove Council area including one in Lane Cove West near the Figtree Shops.

A few years ago an application was made for a boarding house on Austin Street across the road from the Lane Cove Public School.  It did not proceed after wide-scale public objections.

It might be time for the State Government to review boarding houses to see if they are in fact a solution to affordable housing.

It might also be time for the Lane Cove Council to have in place a registration and enforcement plan for operators who fail to register.