Earlier this month, the Canberra Liberals put forward a bill to introduce inspection and enforcement measures surrounding controlled activity orders related to extreme cases of hoarding.
The Planning and Development (Controlled Activities) Amendment Bill 2019 seeks, amongst other things, to: introduce regular inspections; insert firm deadlines for rectification works to be carried out; make individuals in breach of controlled activity orders liable for rectification costs; and increase penalties for multiple breaches.
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said that while current laws exist to deal with the issue, not enough is being done to enforce them.
“At the moment there is a lack of enforcement of controlled activity orders, including inspections and rectifications.
“Unclean leasehold issues will often drag on for years, even decades, with limited action from the property owner and next to no action from the government.”
He said that while the issue of extreme hoarding isn’t widespread in Canberra, the instances where it takes place does cause distress to many Canberrans.
“We are not talking about a garage full of household possessions or a house full of knick-knacks; we are talking about front and back yards overflowing with junk, cats, dogs, rats, snakes, mosquitoes and much more,” he said.
“Failing to keep a leasehold clean can lead to potentially poor health outcomes for the property owner and for the adjacent residents, due to rodents, mosquitoes and other pests.
“My expectation is that we might be talking about one or two dozen properties in Canberra, but for these dozen or two properties many, many people are impacted,” he said.
An ACT Government spokesperson said the Canberra Liberals’ proposed legislation is a “simplistic approach” to a complex social issue.
“We are cautious about the introduction of penalties that can be used as a blunt tool against the most vulnerable in our society,” the spokesperson said.
They said imposing inflexible and strict conditions on compliance orders fails to account for the needs of the vulnerable.
“Every situation is different and the government response varies based on site safety, community interest, mental health issues and circumstance.
“The Planning and Development Act contains a wide range of compliance options, including fines, prohibition notices and controlled activity orders.
“Providing compliance officers with a range of options means that the enforcement of the planning system can be tailored to the particular situation.”
The spokesperson said the government’s Litter Bill, currently before the Assembly, proposes an escalating framework to deal with litter on a private site.
“This includes allowing TCCS [Transport Canberra and City Services] to enter a site to clean up and abate the hoarding of litter when all other actions have been unsuccessful … Importantly, this framework does not criminalise the mental health issue of hoarding.”