Everyone has the right to live in a safe and healthy home. Unfortunately, households that are renting are more likely to be living in properties of a poorer standard than owner-occupied households¹.
Unlike other consumer goods, private rental properties in Victoria are not required to comply with minimum health and safety standards. As such, there are few incentives for landlords to do the right thing by their tenants in respect to ensuring their properties are of a decent standard.
Above: Issues like these are very common and often lead to unsafe or unhealthy living conditions for renters.
The lack of minimum property standards in Victoria’s private rental market poses a very real health risk to many of the state’s over 1.5 million renters. Tenants Victoria regularly receives stories from tenants related to basic health concerns such as excessive mould growth, serious faults in electrical systems, and heaters that don’t work or are inefficient. When you consider the fact that one in nine Australians suffer from asthma and asthma is more common in people living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas², problems like mould growth in the home become a potentially life-threatening problem.
These problems become even more concerning during the colder winter months when more tenants are struggling to live in safety and comfort. A recent international study indicated that 6.5% of deaths in Australia could be attributed to the cold³. This figure is almost twice that of Sweden, an icy-cold country which requires landlords to provide tenants with “fully serviceable” accommodation that includes basic such as heating, hot and cold water and a stove.
Unfortunately, choosing a better standard property is often not an option for many tenants due to an expensive and highly competitive rental market. When tenants are competing against multiple other applicants for the same property, they tend to hold less bargaining power to request a minimum level of safety and efficiency at the time of application. Once they have entered into a tenancy agreement, tenants are further hindered by the risk of being served a ‘no reason’ eviction notice after requesting repairs or improvements and the physical, emotional and financial cost of moving. These issues are compounded for low-income and vulnerable tenants whose options for suitable rental properties are often even more limited.
A lack of efficient energy and water facilities can further exacerbate the problem of affordability and security of tenure for tenants. Research conducted by the Brotherhood of St Laurence indicated that 38% of private renters were unable to properly heat their homes and 43% were unable to pay their energy bills on time. The research also indicated that these tenants typically reside in poor-quality housing and remain heavily reliant on inefficient heating and cooling devices.
THE LAWS NEED TO CHANGE
The Make Renting Fair campaign is calling on the Victorian Government to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to include minimum property standards that assure and safeguard the health, safety and energy efficiency of private rental properties. It is recommend that buildings must:
- Be structurally sound, weatherproof, draft-proof, vermin-proof and not pose a fire hazard
- Have a properly functioning electricity connection with electrical safety switches, circuit breakers and adequate electrical outlets in each habitable room
- Have a properly functioning approved gas connection (if available and connected) with regular gas safety checks
- Have a decent level of insulation, ventilation and at least one form of inbuilt heating (in the main living area) in good working order with a minimum energy efficiency
- Have running hot and cold potable water with access to an energy efficient hot water service and fixed water appliances
- Have deadlocks installed on all external doors, and window locks and fly screens on all windows
- Have installed appliances (heaters, hot water systems, ovens, etc.) that are efficient and property installed, and are periodically tested or serviced
- Have adequate lighting (preferably natural light) with a basic level of window coverings
The amendment should include a duty to comply with the relevant minimum property standards and make non-compliance an offense. The minimum standards must apply to all rental properties with no exemptions.
THERE ARE NO EXCUSES
Those opposing this recommendation often trot out the claim that legislating minimum standards will drive away investors. However, research indicates that this is not true, finding that tenancy law reform is of marginal importance to what ultimately motivates investors to enter the market or invest long-term⁴.
Another popular assertion is the idea that complying with minimum property standards will increase rents. This argument is equally flawed, as any proposed legislation pertaining to minimum property standards would be rolled out gradually during a transition period. This gradual roll-out would initially be triggered at the beginning of new tenancy agreements or when a lease renewal is signed. Moreover, the transition period would provide landlords with a reasonable amount of time to comply with the new standards and raise the capital to do so without disadvantaging tenants. For landlords that are asset rich but income poor and can demonstrate a need for financial assistance, the implementation scheme could also include either grants or loans to assist them with compliance. Strong tenancy protections should also be included in reform to prevent unfair rent increases or evictions.
Legislating minimum property standards isn’t designed to provide tenants with luxury. It is about providing all Victorians with the basic human right to a safe and secure home. Providing decent housing will improve the quality of life for the occupants, nurture a more amiable landlord-tenant relationship, and ultimately provide the landlord with a much more sustainable investment in the long run.
GET INVOLVED! You can help us spread the word about legislating minimum property standards in Victoria’s private rental market by signing the petition and emailing your local MP in support of the Make Renting Fair campaign.
- Hulse, K. & Milligan, 2014, Secure Occupancy: A New Framework for Analysing Security in Rental Housing, Housing Studies, Vol. 29, No. 5, pp.638-656
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 18 October 2011, Asthma in Australia 2011: with a focus chapter on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Gasparrino et al, The Lancet, July 2015, Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multicountry observational study, Vol. 386, No. 9991, pp369-375
- Paris, C., Randolph, W. and Weeks, 1991, Impacts on Investment Market Changes Following Changes to Landlord and Tenant and Associated Legislation, paper for the National Housing Strategy, Canberra.