Housing choice and affordability have declined to crisis levels and an increasing proportion of Australians now see renting as their only option. The time to improve the rights and conditions of tenants in private rental is well overdue.
A NEW NATIONAL STANDARD
The Greens strongly support a coordinated and fairer system for Australian renters. We’ve devised a national package that sets stronger, fairer standards for renters and assists landlords to meet them - a win-win for everyone.
We'd bring in national minimum standards to address the five most urgent issues facing tenants today:
1. Improve security of tenure
We know how costly and stressful moving house can be. Research shows that having long-term certainty and security over means you are likely to have better health and education outcomes and better social connections in your community.
The Greens want to create an opportunity for more Australian renters to enter into long term lease agreements to enjoy those benefits that security can provide.
2. Increase stability and fairness of rent prices
The average Australian rent has tripled in Brisbane, Perth, Darwin and Canberra since 2000; and in every other city has at least doubled in the same period. Currently there are no checks and balances on rent rises - and in any other sector 10% - 50% price inflation, year on year, would not be tolerated. Why should this be the case with our housing?
The Greens' national standard for renters would look at limiting the number of times rent can be increased, a fair minimum period of notice for a rent increase and by how much, and prescribing a formula linked to general pricing levels, such as the CPI. It could also set clear provisions determining whether an increase is excessive, as is done in the Netherlands.
3. Set a new ‘efficiency standard’ for rentals
Research shows rental housing is the worst performing housing stock in terms of environmental and efficiency standards. This makes it costly for tenants as well as bad for the environment.
In almost all States and Territories there are variations on a formula that premises must be fit for habitation and in a state of reasonable repair. However, there is currently no national, consistent minimum standard for rental properties across Australia.
The Victorian Council of Social Services states: “This makes it perfectly legal for a landlord to rent out a property that has no heating, is not weatherproof, and has no window coverings... It does not have to be possible or affordable to keep the property warm in winter or cool in summer.”
Our proposed standards would provide a nationally consistent and tailored package of incentives and rebates to encourage retrofitting in rental properties to homes. That means rental properties that are cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and address energy and water efficiency - saving energy, water and money.
4. Increase safety and security
The Greens' Rental Health Survey found that less than 50% or renters who responded have basic security installed like locks on windows or security screens on doors and windows. Just 54% have deadlocks on doors and a startling 32% of respondents said they do not feel safe in their rental home.
There are currently no consistent requirements for landlords to undertake repairs, maintenance, or provide adequate security to rental properties. Due to short term leases and the renewal being up to the landlord, tenants are often hesitant to request better security or maintenance out of fear they will be perceived as a pest and their lease will not be renewed.
5. Better protection for vulnerable groups
People who live in boarding houses, caravan parks and even student accommodation are vulnerable to evictions with little notice, rent increases with no or little notice, and have no means to resolve disputes in some states. We propose an investigation to determine a way that these renters are better protected across Australia.
A STRONGER VOICE FOR TENANTS
The Greens Rental Health Survey found there is strong need and support for tenant’s advocacy services, with 53% of respondents have needed to contact a tenant’s advocacy service for issues with their rental property in the past.
85% think renters need better representation in Australia and 92% support a nationally consistent model of consumer protection for renters that includes legal advice, dispute resolution and advocacy.
The Greens will provide an additional $3 million per year to existing tenants advocacy services to help them provide a stronger voice for tenants and a new national model of ‘consumer protection’ for renters.
This would mean better funding for legal advice, dispute resolution, and advocacy for tenants. This is a crucial part of a national approach to preventing homelessness. The Greens' package would also provide more funding for specialist Indigenous tenants advice services or Indigenous advocates.
Landlords enjoy considerable power over the tenant particularly in Australia’s tight rental market, and are able to offer rental housing to prospective tenants on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The Greens don’t want to take away any protections for landlords, but want to set a level playing field that is fair to both parties and nationally consistent and enforceable.
The Greens propose a model that is based on the same body that administers similar programs such as the Universal Design standard for housing policy, which supports the implementation of liveable housing designs for those with disabilities. The body would research, consult and set the standards, and oversee their implementation.