Page 1386 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 6 April 2011

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The water efficiency standards will be delivered through fitting low-flow shower heads and taps and installing a dual-flush toilet. And the security standards call for the provision of deadlocks on external doors as well as locks on other external openings. As I said earlier, the legislation also requires the minister to set standards in other areas.

The question that comes up is: why do we need to set minimum standards for rental properties? Firstly, there are none. The current provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act place minimal requirements on landlords in regard to the status of a property, simply requiring that properties be reasonably clean, in a reasonable state of repair and reasonably secure.

This does not mean that houses need to be warm in winter, cool in summer, well ventilated, have fly screens or deadlocks. Indeed, a reasonable state of repair effectively implies that, whatever facilities the property offers, they are in good condition. But it fails to specify specific facilities that should be included.

The second reason for minimum standards is that it will help raise the standard of rental housing stock across Canberra, such that energy and water use is reduced, providing cheaper properties to run as well as contributing to the community’s savings in these areas. This will have the effect of reducing long-term cost-of-living pressures on those who are renting their homes.

The third reason is that we know that there is a dilemma in regard to improvement to rental properties known as the split incentive problem. The incentives for landlords who are responsible for capital costs are limited, while basic improvements, such as ceiling insulation, might significantly improve the quality of life and lower running costs for tenants.

Fourthly, we know that, even when incentives are available, landlords do not always take them. This was clearly demonstrated when the federal government, as part of their energy efficient homes package in 2009, rolled out a scheme where landlords were able to receive up to $1,000 to help with the costs of ceiling insulation. However, while the homeowner part of the scheme was well subscribed, the rental scheme soon rolled into the homeowner scheme. Interestingly, for every one rental property accessing this rebate, 14 accessed the owner occupiers scheme.

The Tenants Union of Victoria supports the view that landlords do not access such rebate programs, as indicated in a survey of people who received insulation rebates in Victoria in 2008 which showed only 12 per cent were tenanted households. So while incentives might be there as a legitimate policy measure, in isolation they are not having the impact that they should.

Of course, minimum standards can also be viewed through a climate change lens and, for a parliament that has passed legislation for a greenhouse gas reduction target, such measures are part of the policy puzzle that needs to be put in place. It is estimated that at least a third of ACT houses lack adequate insulation and energy efficient lights and less than 10 per cent of houses have solar hot-water systems. The composition of

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