City of Sydney statement on fire safety at backpacker hostels and illegal subletting

Today’s story is a clear example of why we need state legislation to give local governments stronger powers to immediately inspect properties that are suspected of doing the wrong thing.

The City of Sydney will not tolerate businesses putting their profits ahead of people’s safety, and will increase inspections and, where possible, prosecutions.

The City already carries out proactive inspections of approved backpacker accommodation and boarding houses, including annual fire safety inspections that are above and beyond NSW Government regulations.

Overcrowding in private properties is a difficult issue that all local Councils face.

Councils do not have the power to enter private property and perform on-the-spot inspections, making getting evidence and prosecuting those who are doing the wrong thing extremely difficult.

Illegal subletting

The City is investigating fresh complaints about a property in Ultimo. City officers were recently refused access to the property.

The City has issued orders in respect to the premises in relation to unauthorised building works and the alleged ongoing illegal use of the property for short-term accommodation. These matters are currently being followed up.

The City is also investigating a number of other properties in relation to alleged illegal subletting, but cannot comment further at this stage.


The City of Sydney plays no role in the running of backpacker hostels.

The City assesses development applications related to hostels and can impose conditions of consent related to occupancy numbers.

A building’s quality of construction is determined by the relevant Building Code of Australia or National Construction Code.

Standards for fire stairs and other access and exit points are controlled by the Building Code of Australia.

If there is a fire safety risk, the City can issue an order requiring additional fire safety measures to be installed.

The City undertakes annual fire safety inspections of the approximately 140 registered boarding houses and backpacker hostels in the inner city.

The City also responds to complaints about premises not meeting, fire safety, health and hygiene standards, and this could lead to further inspections.

The City is currently investigating a number of hostels and will take action where breaches of development consents and building standards have occurred.

Compliance measures are already in place for one hostel to replace flooring, and a follow up City inspection is due shortly.

The City received a report in October last year from NSW Fire and Rescue about a hostel in Darlinghurst. The City inspected the property and issued the hostel with written instructions to rectify identified fire safety deficiencies. A further inspection was carried out and found the property was now compliant.

Councils can issue fines or take legal action for breaches of development consents. They can also issue fire orders for buildings deemed unsafe, or take action where basic hygiene and other standards are not met in places of shared accommodation.

Last updated: Thursday, 17 July 2014