For many Victorians, rental homes will be homes for life – places where we grow up, raise a family, work, study and age.
Despite the growing normality of renting, Victoria does not prescribe any minimum standards for rental homes. It is legal for a home to lack heating, insulation and even cooking and bathing facilities that work. This can risk the health and wellbeing of the 607,000 Victorian households who are renting, and raise their energy bills to much higher levels than they should be.
The Victorian Government can make a real difference to people’s lives by introducing minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards for rental housing.
This will especially benefit Victorians doing it tough. People on low incomes are more likely to live in poor-quality rental housing, because private rentals are often very unaffordable for people on low incomes, and social housing supply has not kept up with demand. Some people face discrimination when trying to find a home, including on the basis of race, having children, or relying on income support. When you’re pushed to the edge, you’re forced to make awful compromises on housing quality.
Minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards could target the most critical housing features to ensure quality and ‘bang for buck’ improvements, and target the very worst rental homes. They could include basic features such as a working toilet, working cooking facilities, locks on external doors, proper airflow, window coverings, ceiling insulation and affordable heating and hot water systems.
Minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards could target the most critical housing features to ensure quality and ‘bang for buck’ improvements, and target the very worst rental homes.
This would help achieve thermal safety and comfort, which improves people’s health and wellbeing. Energy bills and other household expenses (like rent) are more manageable when homes don’t leak heat in winter and roast in summer. And good quality rental housing would improve the wellbeing of the already disadvantaged, who are concentrated in the ‘slums of the 21st century’. This includes people with disability and ill health, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Minimum standards are the only way to bring poor quality rental homes up to scratch. Asking a landlord for basic housing features simply isn’t an option for the many people on low incomes who struggled to find a rental property in the first place, or fear approaching their landlord. As ‘Beth’ explained in VCOSS’ Power Struggles report:
“Don’t ask [the landlord] because they’re not going to do it. In my experience of renting, owners are not interested in improving any of those things because it makes no impact to them at all… it’s so competitive that if you’re not happy they just get rid of you and get someone else.”
For responsible landlords, compliance with minimum rental standards will be easy—most, if not all standards, will be met. For landlords who lease poor quality homes, compliance will take longer. But it won’t need to happen overnight. Compliance with standards can be a staged, gradual process over several years, helping to minimise costs.
Other governments have already taken steps towards better standards of rental housing, including South Australia and Tasmania (general property standards), the United Kingdom (energy efficiency standards) and New Zealand (insulation standards).
Victoria is at a turning point. Rental homes are increasingly places for the long run. By introducing minimum rental standards, the Victorian Government can equip people—right across the life course—with homes that are safe, healthy and affordable to run. The time to end shoddy rental housing has well and truly arrived.
Thumbnail image: Luca Stefanelli/CC