National push for minimum rental standards


Local renter James says he has been feeling the chill of late in his Torrens home. 

“We’ve only been there since last spring … but more often than not we find that it’s warmer outside the house than it is inside.”

While the house has a small gas heater in the living room – “the rest of the house has nothing” – the minimal insulation makes it expensive to heat.

“We only put the lounge room heater on when we are very desperate.”

The 22-year-old is one of many renters in Canberra living in an energy inefficient house.

It’s a “dire” situation for many of these tenants given the ACT’s weather extremes, according to Better Renting’s executive director, Joel Dignam.

He says the ACT’s tough rental market is forcing people to either live in a cold house over winter or foot the electricity bill to heat an inefficient home. Summer comes with its own challenges, too, effecting tenants’ mental health when the heat increases irritability and disrupts sleep.

Better Renting's Joel Dignam says minimum standards for rentals are needed around the country.
Better Renting’s Joel Dignam. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

Better Renting is one of more than 50 organisations calling on state and territory governments across the country today to introduce minimum standards for energy efficiency in rental properties through the Healthy Homes for Renters campaign – something the ACT Government has committed to doing but has yet to enact.

Mr Dignam said minimum standards would look different in each state and territory depending on conditions, but in the ACT could include things like ceiling insultation, stopping draughts, and a fixed, energy-efficient heater – something that’s soon to be required in Victoria.

“What we’d like to see is the basic stuff that just make a home fit to live in,” Mr Dignam said.

James agrees, “As a university student it’s difficult enough to make ends meet with Canberra’s exorbitant rent prices”.

“For us, temperature control is seen as the most expendable cost relating to our house, so we often go without.”

ACT Council of Social Service CEO Emma Campbell said the biggest impacts of inefficient homes are felt by those already struggling with expenses and rental stress; people on low incomes, older Canberrans and people with disabilities.

She said minimum standards are now a “much more urgent task” with the expected increases to electricity prices.

“These are members of our communities who literally cannot afford to get sick yet are stuck in accommodation that has a negative impact on their health.”  

In a 2019 report, Better Renting estimated of the 140 deaths in the ACT each year due to the cold or health issues exacerbated by the cold, one third could be attributed to a cold home.

ACT Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Shane Rattenbury said the Government is currently developing the minimum standards and would enact some regulation by the end of the year with other measures to be progressively implemented in future.  

“This work will include consultation with a range of relevant stakeholders including renters, landlords, rental advocacy groups, the Real Estate Institute ACT, and the insulation industry,” he said.