Brisbane landlords, Brisbane's rental market

Rental property safety: should the law set minimum standards?

On May 29th 2011 a seven week old girl died when she fell from her father’s arms at their rented home in Yeppoon. Isabella Diefenbach’s tragic death was the subject of a 2012 coronial enquiry, the events that led to the fall, a broken decking board and the current responsibilities of tenants, landlords and agents in maintaining a rental home were dissected and discussed in full detail. In years to come this could well be seen as a tipping point in Queensland’s rental property laws.

Queensland landlords are required by our current Act to provide a dwelling “fit for the tenant to live in” and “in good repair”, but how should that be determined or measured? What should “good repair” look like? What minimum standards do we as landlords, tenants and property managers think are reasonable? And is there a place for legislation to require this standard to be maintained?

The Diefenbach Coroner recommended government introduce “mandatory inspections by an independent licensed builder of the structural integrity of a residential rental property with a deck, verandah or balcony that is greater than 10 years old immediately prior to the property being placed on the rental market and thereafter at a minimum three year interval during its continued use as a rental property.”

Last Thursday a Member of Parliament introduced a private bill to amend our tenancy legislation, “to make provision for statutory minimum standards for rental accommodation and rooming accommodation in Queensland.“ Member for Bundamba Jo-ann Miller told parliament that imposing minimum housing standards would ensure that “even at the lowest end of the rental market where renters are the most vulnerable, standards are enforceable to provide that basic minimum health and safety standards apply to places where Queensland families live.”

The detail of what these standards might look like isn’t offered by the Bill itself, suggesting the government prescribe them in regulations. There’s already specific laws on pool safety, smoke alarms, safety switches and blind cords for example. And the topics listed in the Bill include sanitation, drainage, cleanliness and repair of premises; ventilation and insulation; protection from damp and its effects; construction, condition, structures, safety and situation of premises; the dimensions, cubical extent and height of rooms in the premises; privacy and security and freedom from vermin infestation.

The draft Bill says “There is no alternative method of achieving the objectives other than by legislative amendment.” So what do you think? Is there another way to ensure rental homes in Queensland are safe? And is government intervention more red tape and expense for landlords with further disincentives to investing? Or much-needed law to provide safe housing?

We’d love to hear your comments.