The issue of standards of rental properties is keenly felt in Canberra during the winter months with minimum temperatures regularly less than zero. While the majority of buildings have adequate standards (since 1995 all new houses have been required to have an Energy Efficiency Rating — EER — of at least four) those that are in poor condition can cause significant hardship for people in terms of health and financial costs.
The three key standards addressed by the Bill are:
• Energy efficiency — EER 2 by January 2013, and EER 3 by January 2015. These are not high EERs, but changing a house from an EER of 0 to 3 can halve an electricity bill
• Water efficiency — can be met by fitting low flow shower heads and taps, and installing a dual flush toilet
• Security — the provision of deadlocks on external doors as well as locks on other external openings.
The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 states that a tenant is entitled to live in premises that are ‘in a reasonable state of repair’ and ‘reasonably clean’ — security and efficiency standards are not included.
The issue is not limited to the ACT. In its 2004 report on tenancy legislation across the country, the National Association of Tenant Organisations noted that, ‘the absence of any specific, prescribed content of landlords’ obligations in this regard is a major shortcoming…’. It recommended that residential tenancies legislation should set out specific standards of habitability and energy efficiency. This recommendation was echoed in National Shelter’s 2010 report on tenancy legislation A better lease on life: improving Australian tenancy law. At a state level there has been a long-running community campaign — Decent Not Dodgy — by the Victorian Council of Social Service and the Tenants’ Union Victoria to garner support for changes. There was an unsuccessful attempt by the Victorian Greens to introduce a similar Bill in 2010. In Tasmania, the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania, Shelter Tasmania and Minister for Consumer Protection, are among those to show support for some form of minimum standards for Tasmanian residential tenancies.
DEB PIPPEN is Executive Officer of the Tenants’ Union ACT.