Dwellings for low paid 'uninhabitable'
June 27, 2010 - 3:00AM
MANY privately owned rental properties targeting low-income earners in Melbourne and Geelong are unsafe or uninhabitable, a Victorian Council of Social Service report has found.
A third of the properties surveyed had no electrical safety switch, one in five had significant mould problems and one in 10 had no heating.
Of the 116 ''affordable'' rental properties inspected in the survey, one in 10 was found to be uninhabitable.
However, the VCOSS report, Decent Not Dodgy, found that 40 per cent of the problems affecting most premises could be fixed for less than $100.
More than half of the residences needed only two repairs or additions to make them into decent dwellings.
The report looked at affordable housing in Melbourne and Geelong, using ''secret shopper'' volunteers to check the standards of properties advertised for rent.
They assessed studio apartments and one-bedroom units up to the value of $150 a week and houses with three bedrooms or more attracting weekly rents of up to $400.
The report said 70 per cent of renters are on low incomes. Yet the survey found that 41 per cent of properties had no low-flow shower head, which are free under a state government swap program and would help to cut residents' water bills.
Seventeen per cent did not have a deadlock fitted to the external door.
Both the shower head and lock problems could be fixed at no or low cost to the owners, acting VCOSS chief executive officer Carolyn Atkins said
The report, due for release tomorrow, found that in a further 12 per cent of properties two or more changes could bring a house or flat up to a liveable standard. However, 9 per cent of properties required significant expense to make them habitable.
Ms Atkins said the organisation was campaigning for new minimum standards and that the survey showed rents would have no cause to go up if regulations were introduced because most repairs cost so little.
She said that properties should be secure, heated and safe, but under the Residential Tenancies Act they were only required to be clean.
Ms Atkins said decent housing was a basic human right and regulations similar to those in Britain, Canada and the US should be introduced here.
''It is unacceptable in a First World country,'' she said.
VCOSS has suggested minimum standards should include that properties be damp-free, weatherproof, insulated, ventilated, connected to hot and cold running water, and with a fixed heater and cooking facilities.
Ms Atkins said renters could save $363 a year if a gas heater and ceiling insulation were installed and a further $336 a year if the property switched from electric to gas hot water heating.
Kildonan UnitingCare operates an energy program to help renters reduce their energy costs. Its program manager, Karl Barratt, said some renters were paying $1500 for their winter energy bill because they had inefficient electrical heating and hot water services.
The VCOSS report criticised rental property managers, saying 68 per cent did not know whether the property was insulated, while others did not know what type of hot water system a property had or whether there was a safety switch.
Asked about regulations governing rental property standards, a state government spokeswoman said it had committed to reviewing standards in the Victorian Integrated Housing Strategy.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/dwellings-for-low-paid-uninhabitable-20100626-zb1i.html