Update November 2023: Although this post is now four years old, it's still unfortunately the case that there are no minimum energy efficiency standards for rentals in Queensland.
When it comes to standards for rental properties, it safe to say that the Queensland Government proposes to do the minimum. Before we get into the detail of what is proposed and what is lacking, let’s pause and understand why minimum standards matter.
In the absence of minimum standards, a competitive rental market can create a race to the bottom where some people are so desperate for a home that they end up paying rent for a dwelling that isn’t fit to live in. Minimum rental standards guarantee that people who rent their home will get certain things in exchange for their money. This also increases the supply of decent dwellings (by incentivising improvements in the worst dwellings) which means that demand for decent housing can be met at a lower overall cost.
For this to work, minimum standards should be set at a minimum. Renters who prefer to pay less rent and live in a smaller or older home should have this option. But it's essential that all people who rent their home can still have a safe and healthy home.
The Queensland Government's proposal fails on this front.
Allowing unsafe rental homes
The Queensland Government claims that one of their reform objectives is to ensure that rental accommodation is "safe, secure and functional." Yet they neglect reforms that are essential to make sure that a rental property is safe.
Our view is that every Australian deserves a home that is livable and healthy in a heatwave or a cold winter, with affordable rent and energy costs. Yet we know that low energy efficiency means that Australian homes are less likely to be livable and healthy. Indoor temperature extremes cause poor health, disease, and death. In Brisbane, about one in twenty deaths is attributable to the cold. For every death, many others suffer from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases such as asthma or strokes. In summer, heatwaves cause more deaths than all other natural disasters combined. Renters are more at risk because they are more likely to be in inefficient homes that are hotter in summer and colder in winter.
So for rental standards to make rental homes safe, they must address these health risks. But here’s what the Queensland Government proposes:
- No requirement for insulation.
- No requirement for ceiling fans or even for flyscreens on windows.
- No requirement for draught-proofing.
- No requirement for heating or cooling appliances.
- No requirement for efficient hot water systems or efficient lighting. (While this doesn’t contribute directly to safe temperatures, it reduces utility costs, which helps households to spend more on heating or cooling if they need.)
The measures that the Queensland Government is ignoring are basic, cost-effective measures that make housing safer and healthier and reduce the cost of living. The Government defends their position by arguing that it’s more expensive to retrofit an existing property than to include these measures in a new property. While this may be true, it’s irrelevant.
The choice we face isn’t between retrofitting properties now or going back in time and installing insulation two decades ago. Our choice is between landlords paying the cost to improve unsafe homes, or people who rent paying the cost - in their health, and higher energy bills - of living in glorified tents. This should be an easy choice.