Page 1385 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 6 April 2011

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If the lessor believes that the premises cannot meet the minimum standards then they can apply for an exemption. The bill gives the capacity to the minister to create exemptions where the cost of meeting the minimum standard is considered unreasonable.

The bill does not apply to people classed as occupiers under the current act. But it would apply to Housing ACT properties.

The context for introducing this bill is that, according to the 2006 census, around 35,000 households are living in tenanted properties in the ACT. Seventy-two per cent of these are private rentals and 26½ per cent are rented by the ACT government. While a large number of properties rented out in the ACT are of good quality, many older houses in the ACT are substandard. Unfortunately, it is these houses that often end up being rented by those who are on the lowest incomes. Ironically, they can also be the people who end up with the highest running costs.

If this bill, in its current form, does pass the Assembly, we will be the first state or territory in Australia to comprehensively address minimum standards for rental properties. Queensland has set a minimum standard for water efficiency in rental properties but, aside from that, a comprehensive response to this issue has not been implemented across the states.

That does not mean there is not a debate that has been running hot. The call for minimum standards for rental properties has been made by a range of community organisations across Australia, ACTCOSS in the ACT, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre and the Victorian Council of Social Service through their decent not dodgy campaign. This campaign calls for reforms to the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act to include basic standards for rental properties to ensure that all renters are guaranteed a home that is healthy, safe and affordable to run.

At a recent conference held in Tasmania called “Renting in Tasmania 2010-2020: the next decade”, there was agreement from those who attended, including real estate agents, tenants, community organisations and government, that minimum standards for rental housing should be introduced in Tasmania. What is apparent is that the states in the colder climates around Australia are starting to seriously raise these questions on minimum rental standards. And certainly Queensland has had a focus on water efficiency. It seems entirely appropriate that as a community that has cold winters and hot summers we should be engaging with this issue in a more wholehearted way.

At the start of the bill, specific standards are set out for energy efficiency, water efficiency and security. The energy efficiency standard requires premises to meet an EER of two stars by January 2013 and an EER of three stars by January 2015. While new houses are required to be six-star rated, this level is targeted at upgrading older houses, and changing a house from an EER of zero to three can halve a household electricity bill and therefore play a big role in not only improving efficiency but also improving quality of life and health.

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