Report: Many Australian rental properties “a serious health risk” to tenants

New academic report finds a number of Australian rental properties pose serious risks to residents' health and wellbeing

Residz Team 3 min read

“....we are continually seeing reports of mould, disrepair, and other awful conditions…” - Dr Lyrian Daniel, UniSA

Living in a rental property should provide a safe and comfortable environment for individuals and families.

However, new research by a team from the University of South Australia, University of Adelaide, and University of Melbourne reveals that a significant portion of rental properties in Australia are in such a state of disrepair that they pose serious risks to residents' health and wellbeing.

In a media release on the report entitled “Rental housing standards a threat to resident health and wellbeing”, UniSA Enterprise Fellow and Associate Professor in Architecture, Dr. Lyrian Daniel said:

"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.”

Here we set out the concerns in the report, and the shifts researchers believe are necessary to improve rental standards in Australia.

Weak housing standards affecting renters

According to the report, weak regulation of housing standards and insufficient investment in public housing services are partly to blame for substandard living conditions that have a detrimental impact on both physical and mental health.

Particular concerns arise from properties lacking proper heating and cooling systems, as well as those plagued by dampness and mould.

These conditions not only compromise the overall comfort of residents but also contribute to the development and exacerbation of health problems.

Australia the outlier on rental housing standards and policies

The research conducted an extensive review of rental housing standards, as well as housing and health policies in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

While international regulations exist to ensure the quality and condition of "second-hand" homes, the report’s researchers say they found no comparable instrument in Australia.

Dr. Lyrian Daniel emphasises that while new and renovated houses in Australia are required to have a seven-star energy efficiency rating, the existing housing stock remains among the least energy efficient nationwide.

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

For instance, in the UK, the Homes Act 2018 mandates that all rented houses be fit for human habitation, while New Zealand's Healthy Homes Guarantee Act 2017 enforces the Healthy Homes Standard for all rental properties.

Australian renters left out in the cold

Evidence strongly supports the effectiveness of formalised standards in reducing substandard housing conditions.

Dr. Daniel highlights the absence of such legislation in Australia, which leaves many people with no option but to endure poor living conditions characterised by cold, dampness, and mould.

In fact, a recent article co-authored by Dr. Daniel and published in The Conversation revealed that four out of five Australian homes fail to meet the World Health Organisation's minimum standards for warmth.

Situation has worsened since pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated one million Australians were already living in poor to very poor housing conditions, and this figure is expected to have significantly increased since then due to rising interest rates and other factors.

Dr. Daniel explains, "We are seeing a perfect storm for renters at the moment. Cost of living pressures, record low vacancy rates, and a largely unregulated housing stock in terms of quality and condition mean that many households have no choice but to endure conditions that may be harming their family's health."

What’s needed to improve life for renters

Drawing from the experiences of the UK and New Zealand, the authors of the research paper identified five institutional shifts necessary to improve healthy housing standards in Australia:

Dr. Daniel stresses that delivering a healthier housing system requires institutional changes.

She points out that there is reason for cautious optimism regarding housing policy in Australia, as there has been renewed interest from all levels of government since the 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.

“But we need to make sure that our politicians and policy makers know that this is an important issue. As a community, we need to keep this at the top of the agenda and continue to produce robust research evidence.”

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