Like it or lump it: the granny flat laws are for the next generation
16th November 2023

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The magic wand that the Allan government waved over Victoria this week is a welcome step towards addressing the seismic issues facing the state’s housing sector. Homeowners are being given the power to build a granny flat without a planning permit, and yet enough red tape will remain to stop them rushing out to Bunnings and doing it themselves.

If you don’t believe the housing crisis is real, consider this; last month, Melbourne’s rental vacancy rate slumped to 0.9 per cent. The time it takes a Melburnian aged between 25 and 34 years to save a 20 per deposit for an entry-level house in our city is now 11 years and two months (by which time, the price of housing will have invariably risen again, shifting the goal posts even further).

Premier Jacinta Allan at the announcement of the granny flat scheme on Tuesday.Credit: Simon Schluter

If that doesn’t tell you we’re a state in dire need of new housing options, it’s hard to know what will.

Until this week, it was awkward enough that Victoria still had such old-fashioned and outdated rules around granny flats while NSW, for example, changed theirs 14 years ago.

Even more embarrassing for us is how restrictive the use of granny flats has been. They can’t be rented out, only available to truly dependent family members in need of assistance. If they’re no longer dependent and you suddenly find yourself with vacant accommodation that could be used by someone outside your family, well, good luck with that. The state government preferred that it sit vacant.

Now, the government has woken up to the absurdity of the situation and the ever-growing crisis in front of us, and, along with the change to planning permits, is removing the draconian rule of who can and can’t call your granny flat home.

The changes will soon allow homeowners to do what they please: put an adult child in there while they’re studying or saving (against the odds) for their own place; rent it out and add supply to our haemorrhaging rental market; or use it to bring in a supplementary income so those who are overwhelmed don’t need to work three jobs to keep up with mortgage repayments.

But sadly, not everyone is embracing the changes. My own council, Boroondara is fighting these changes, citing granny flats raise “concerns about neighbourhood character, amenity and car parking”. The narrow-minded statement was endorsed by 11 councillors and has been met with some support from local naysayers who were happy for the area to change when they moved in, but now remain intent on stopping anyone else from doing the same. It is truly the most preposterous argument.

The very nature of the humble granny flat is that they are discrete and unimposing, single-level dwellings tucked away at the back of a property. The changes are a small and cost-effective way to open a gate to more housing options at a time when Victorians need it the most. Quite frankly, you don’t have to like it, but for the good of the state, you should have to lump it.

If we don’t begin to take steps to tackle our diabolical housing problem, the number of people living precariously and the rates of homelessness will continue to spiral. The knock-on effects of young adults having no option other than to live in their childhood bedroom forever (if they’re lucky enough to be able to) is substantial.

For those who aren’t supporting a change that should have been brought in across Victoria years ago, here’s a challenge: it’s time to come up with a better name for granny flats. It’s only a matter of time before someone says they find the term problematic.

Alice Stolz is the national property editor of Domain.

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