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Home-based Sex Workers

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Are private sex workers covered by the same laws as brothels?

Yes, private sex workers are covered by the same laws as brothels—unless they only do out calls or escort work.

The law in NSW defines a brothel as any place ‘used for the purposes of prostitution’ even if used ‘by only one’ sex worker. So a private sex worker’s premises is defined as being a brothel. Whether you work in a property you own or rent, or have a separate place for work, your premises may be regulated by the local council’s planning policies. It may be ’illegal’ in that location, or you may have to seek council approval.

For more information on the definition of a brothel and the role of councils, see the sections on working with local councils.

Do you need to apply for approval from council or from a body corporate?

You may have to lodge a DA to use your premises for sex work. A few councils allow private sex workers to operate without a DA, under their ‘Home Occupation’ regulations and their Local Environment Plans. But many local councils' policies prohibit brothels—including private or home-based sex workers—from operating in residential or commercial zones.

Many private sex workers do not apply for a DA—even where it is required—due to the difficulty in complying with council policies, and because they want to protect their privacy. But private workers who decide to operate without required council approval face potential legal action by council.  These workers may be issued with a notice to cease use of the premises for sex services.

If you own or lease a strata title unit, you also need to get separate approval from the body corporate, regardless of council consent.

Private sex work and children

The police, the Department of Community Services and other authorised people can take action to protect children who they think may be ‘at risk’ of harm.

A child (person under 18) at a private residence that is also being used for sexual services is technically ‘in a brothel’ - which is classed as a restricted premises. Government departments may regard the child as ‘at risk’ by being there, particularly if a client and child are present at the same time. 

Is it legal to work from a motel, hotel, bar or nightclub?

If you rent a hotel or motel room for sex work, you may be using premises that are not authorised by council to be used for sex work. Council may take action to stop you operating your business from the hotel or motel room. The council may also pressure the hotel to stop renting you the room if you use it for sex work.

The licensee of a hotel, bar or nightclub can decide that certain behaviours—such as ‘indecent acts’—are unacceptable by their personal standards. They can then ask a patron, including a sex worker or client who is soliciting for sexual services, to leave the licensed premises.

Case Study

A private worker working from rented premises in a strata title block was visited by council staff following a complaint from a neighbour that she was ‘running a brothel’. After checking the council worker’s photo-ID and getting a council business card she told the council staff that the allegation was untrue. As there were no more complaints council did not investigate any more. At the same time a complaint was made to the body corporate, which contacted the owner of the unit who terminated the lease with the worker. The worker, despite having rights to keep renting the property, decided to move to a more discreet location in a non-strata title block.