SUPPORT workers have welcomed moves to impose on-the-spot fines for rogue rooming house operators, but they warn forcing them to close properties will intensify the cycle of homelessness.
From next March, all rooming houses will be bound by minimum standards, such as locks in every bedroom and bathroom, and adequate kitchen amenities and power supplies.
Consumer Affairs Victoria says new regulations will mean that failure to meet the standards can be dealt with immediately, rather than only through the courts.
Companies operating rooming houses face fines of up to $2800 for each breach.
The changes come amid heightened concerns about living conditions in the burgeoning rooming houses of Melbourne's west.
Earlier this year, the Weekly reported an eightfold increase in the number of rooming houses in the inner-west, including Maribyrnong, Brimbank, Hobsons Bay and Moonee Valley.
There are 46 registered rooming houses in Maribyrnong, but the council estimates more than 100 illegal houses are operating throughout the city.
In the inner-west, the number of tenants soared from 288 in 2006 to 2669 last year.
Norwood Association team leader Brad Wilde said rooming house residents were among society's most vulnerable people and many had mental health issues.
"It's often a stressful period for these individuals to secure housing and then it's hard to feel safe in their housing."
Mr Wilde said conditions in rooming houses were often extremely poor. He called on the state to waive fines for landlords trying to abide by the law. "There are landlords doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Rather than close down their houses, the government needs to help them fund improving the standard of living. Otherwise they're contributing to the cycle of homelessness."
In a submission to the government on social housing released last week, the Victorian Council of Social Services noted Victoria continues to experience a housing affordability crisis, with rents having risen faster than the incomes of the most disadvantaged Victorians for over a decade.
"Ultimately," it stated, "the only way to address housing affordability for low-income households is to expand the supply of low-cost housing and increase the resources available to households to secure housing."
Maribyrnong mayor John Cumming said:
"Enforcing this legislation is essential to ensure the safety of residents in rooming houses. Overcrowding within them can put the well-being and safety of residents at risk."