The City of Newcastle has issued orders for the closure of three Newcastle boarding houses due to extreme risk to life in the event of a fire.
The emergency orders were issued on a heritage-listed property in Bourke Street, Carrington, and another two properties at Waratah Street, Mayfield, following serious regulatory breaches.
Fire safety risks posed by illegally constructed units and other unauthorised building alterations were detected as part of the City's Boarding House Inspection Program.
More than 60 men in total are currently living across the three boarding houses despite them only being registered to house 32 boarders.
City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath said the boarders, a number of whom are vulnerable, had been put at risk due to the actions of the boarding house proprietor.
"We've had to make the difficult but necessary decision to close these premises after our fire safety engineer identified an extreme risk to lives in the event of a fire," Mr Bath said.
"We appreciate the gravity of the action we have taken. The men living in these homes are often those who are only able to live in the community because of the availability of cheap accommodation. But unfortunately, the owner of the properties has shown complete disregard for the safety of the men. In fact, when our staff provided a stop-work direction earlier this month, he had returned to continue the construction of even more illegal works within a day.
“Due to unauthorised construction of more than 30 sole occupancy units, these properties have inadequate fire safety provisions, and it's unacceptable to allow them to continue operating knowing the risks. Quite frankly, these properties are a death trap should they catch fire. While we don’t want to shut the boarding houses down, their owner has left us with absolutely no choice.
"We are working with several support organisations to help find new accommodation for those affected. This means working with St Vincent de Paul Society’s Matthew Talbot Homeless Service, Family and Community Services, and Hunter Tenants Advice & Advocacy Service.
"Obviously we will continue to work with the property owner for the best outcomes for these men to help them find alternative accommodation.
"The operator of the boarding houses must accept responsibility for today's closures, refund his tenants for any rent paid in advance, and then get his house in order by complying with relevant laws and regulations."
A number of Newcastle's 62 boarding houses are part of a coordinated effort by local support agencies to locate alternative accommodation for the affected borders, all of whom are believed to be male.
Both premises must now cease operations in line with the Emergency Development Control Orders served under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979.
Case management workers are currently assessing the needs of those displaced and involve the following support services:
- NSW Housing
- NSW Family and Community Services
- Hunter Tenants Advice & Advocacy Service
- Hunter New England Health
- Non-government organisations such as Samaritans
City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath and Governance Director David Clarke will address media outside the City Administration Centre at 11am.