Renters face health issues from poor housing standards

·2-min read

Weak regulations covering the standard of rental properties in Australia are putting the health and well-being of residents at risk, university researchers have found.

Amid reports of properties with poor heating and cooling along with damp and mouldy conditions, the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and the University of Melbourne reviewed rental housing standards in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Researchers found international regulations existed but there was no comparable Australian instrument to ensure the quality and condition of rental homes.

They are now calling for healthy housing standards to address quality issues in rental and social housing across the country.

"People who are renting a home have a right to expect that their housing is fit for living. But when we are continually seeing reports of mould, disrepair, and other awful conditions, we know that something is wrong," UniSA Associate Professor in Architecture Lyrian Daniel said.

"Internationally, other countries are a step ahead of us in putting better protections in place."

In the UK, all rented houses must be fit for human habitation under the Homes Act, and in New Zealand the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act requires all rental properties to meet a defined standard.

"Australia has no such legislation. This leaves many people with no option but to endure poor living conditions such as houses that are cold, damp or mouldy," Dr Daniel said.

"We are seeing a perfect storm for renters at the moment.

"Cost-of-living pressures, record low vacancy rates and a housing stock largely unregulated in terms of quality and condition mean that many households have no choice but to put up with conditions that may be harming their family's health."

UniSA researchers identified changes to improve healthy housing standards including policy objectives linking housing conditions and health outcomes along with transparent and objective mandatory requirements.

Dr Daniel said there was some cause for optimism regarding housing policy in Australia with renewed interest from all levels of government since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The lessons learned from our international counterparts represent a chance for us to put some solid policies in place to make sure that all Australians have homes that are health supporting," she said.

"But we need to make sure that our politicians and policymakers know that this is an important issue.

"As a community, we need to keep this at the top of the agenda."