Page 3715 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 24 August 2011

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The background to this bill is that the 2006 census indicated there were around 35,000 households living in tenanted properties in the ACT. Seventy-two per cent of these were private rentals and 26.5 per cent were ACT public housing. While many properties rented out in the ACT are of good quality, some are substandard. This bill is important because it is those properties which are often rented by people on low incomes, people who are vulnerable in our rental market.

It is frequently a tight rental market here in the ACT. It can be quite competitive and there is not a lot around at the cheaper end of the market. Prospective tenants find themselves in a situation where they cannot afford to turn down a rental as it is not necessarily easy to get another one.

The Real Estate Institute reported to us that they thought location was one of the biggest factors in a tenant’s choice to rent a property, and I suspect they are right. But I can also imagine that when a renter finds a house in the right place at the right price they are not necessarily thinking ahead to how cold it will be in winter and necessarily how hot it might be in summer. If they are, I suspect many tenants think that they can just get a heater in winter and issues will be resolved.

This is where tenants can come unstuck because when all that heat and energy are disappearing out of the roof due to a lack of insulation and they are still cold, that is when they realise they have a problem. Sadly, the people who rent out low grade housing often end up being the same people with the highest electricity bills.

Energy efficiency ratings of between zero and 1½ stars for older houses in the ACT are not uncommon on the rental market. They may have had cosmetic upgrades to make them easier to rent but they still have very low efficiency ratings. Information supplied by the home energy audit team in 2005 indicates that lifting an EER from zero to three can halve a home’s energy bills, a not insignificant statistic given the recent rises in electricity prices and the much discussed topic in this place of cost of living pressures.

The call for minimum standards for rental properties has been made by a range of community organisations across Australia: ACTCOSS, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre and the Victorian Council of Social Services through their “decent not dodgy” campaign, which calls for reforms to the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act. To date, only Queensland has introduced a mandatory standard for water in rental properties. If this bill passes, the ACT will once again be a legislative leader on an issue that other states have talked about but failed to take action on.

In some ways it is not surprising that the call to set minimum energy efficiency standards runs the hottest in the cold states. Tasmanian, Victorian and ACT renters would by far be the hardest hit when a house in poorly insulated or has an ongoing damp problem. When I introduced the exposure draft of this bill I gave some of the reasons why I thought it was important to set minimum housing standards for rental properties. The consultation process that we undertook did not really reveal anything that altered my view that this was an important thing to do. In fact, we received many

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