Minimum housing standards

21 Jul 2023

New rules around minimum housing standards come into effect on 1 September 2023 for new tenancies and 1 September 2024 for all tenancies.


Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA

Guest: Sam Galer  – Housing Legislation Amendment Team – RTA 

Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies Podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies authority. I'm your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland, with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.  

New rules around minimum housing standards are due to come into effect on 1 September 2023 for new tenancies and 1 September 2024 for all tenancies minimum housing standards aimed to ensure rental properties are safe, secure and functional. They will give tenants, residents, property managers and owners more clarity around the essential requirements and maintenance obligations for Queensland rental properties. Today's expert from the RTA is Sam Galer. Thanks, Sam, for joining us.  

Guest: Thank you. 

Host: Now, Sam, can you tell us about what you do at the RTA and what you're responsible for? 

Guest: Yeah, certainly. So, I'm the Principal Project Officer for the Housing Legislation Implementation Group. Pretty sure they just gave me that title so that I can fumble over it in a podcast. But essentially, I'm working on a project around the changes to the legislation, including the minimum housing standards. 

Host: Yes. And there's so much to cover, and that's what we're going to talk about today. So, what are the minimum housing standards and when do they come into effect? 

Guest: Sure. The minimum housing standards are designed to provide greater clarity around the standards that a rental property must meet to ensure that it is safe, secure and functional. So, it just sort of sets and outlines what are the minimum standards that need to be met. These minimum housing standards come into effect for new tenancies from 1st of September 2023 and then for all tenancies from 1st of September 2024. So it is a phased approach. T 

his means from the 1st of September 2023 onward, if a new tenancy agreement is being signed, that rental property will need to meet these minimum housing standards. That will include renewed agreement, so where there's already existing tenants, but they are renewing the lease. And then from the 1st of September 2024, minimum housing standards will apply to all rental properties regardless. So, it'll be all encompassing at that point. That will also pick up any of the periodic leases or rental properties that are on longer leases which haven't been renewed after the 1st of September 2023 – it will capture everything.  

Minimum housing standards, so these expand on and clarify the existing legislation. The existing legislation states that the property must be fit to live in, in good repair and meet all health and safety requirements. Minimum housing standards are the final phase of stage one rental reform, so these have been coming into effect in stages over the past three years and that's under the Housing Legislation Amendment Act 2021.  

We have had consultation for stage two rental reforms that closed recently, and we'll update all our customers as we know more in the months ahead. 

Host: So, under the minimum housing standards, the property needs to be weatherproof and structurally sound. What exactly does that mean? 

Guest: Yeah, it's a really good question. So, weatherproof means that the roofing or the windows must prevent water from entering the premises when it rains. If it rains and it leaks inside the house and you've got to go and run and get a bucket to put it under the leak, that's not meeting housing standards. Structurally sound means that the building must be safe for the tenant to live in - key points on that is that the walls, ceiling and the roof must be in good condition, not likely to collapse, must not be affected by significant dampness, and that the decks and stairs must be safe and also not affected by rot or defects. 

Host: These are things that you need to be on top of. So, we've been getting a lot of questions on what's changing around security when minimum housing standards come into effect. Can you talk us through that? 

Guest: Yeah, absolutely. There's already legislation in place to say that a rental property must be secure. So that's already in the legislation and has been for a significant period of time. But once the minimum housing standards come into effect, it'll be a little bit more detailed. All external windows and doors at a property will need to have functioning locks or latches to secure the premises against unauthorised entry. Now, this only applies to windows and doors that a person outside the premises or room could access without a ladder. I had a gentleman talk to me the other day, who was a little bit worried. He has high-rise apartments and thought that he was going to have to get up and get all the locks and things attached to that. It's only where they could reach the windows without using a ladder, or a helicopter potentially in that instance. Each property should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, so the focus should be on ensuring that the rental property is secure and that reasonable measures have been taken to meet those safety and security requirements under the legislation. 

Host: So, under minimum housing standards there are also some new rules around privacy. What are those? 

Guest: Rental properties will need to have privacy in the bathroom areas. Privacy coverings will need to be provided in rooms where the tenant might reasonably expect it, so this might be in bedrooms, for instance. Privacy coverings can include blinds curtains, tinted windows and glass frosting. Now, important to note as well, though, that privacy coverings are not required for windows which are blocked from outside view by a fence, a hedge, a tree or other feature of the property. 

Host: Good to know. Now, another area we get a lot of questions on - what does the legislation say about mould, damp and vermin? 

Guest: Yeah, so in the legislation as it stands currently before minimum housing standards, these things are not mentioned. But minimum housing standards specifies these items exactly. What we're looking at is that the property needs to be free from mould, damp or vermin. If mould damp or vermin appears in a rental property during the tenancy, there are a few things to be noting. The tenant should notify the property manager or owner as soon as they're aware of the issue, they're actually required to do that under the legislation. The resolution would be dependent on why the mould damp or vermin is there. If the issue is caused, for example, by issues with the structure of the property, then the property manager or owner is responsible for fixing that because they're responsible for maintaining the premises in good repair – they would need to be making those necessary repairs.  

An example of that might be mould caused by a leaking roof, for instance, the extra moisture being trapped there causing mould. Or, potentially a termite infestation in the walls. That may also meet the requirements for the owner to address the issue. The property manager or owner is also responsible for fixing any issues that are caused just by a reasonable use of the property. An example of that is, let's say, a leaking shower which can't be turned off or a stove top that doesn't work. Now, there is another point on this - if the issue is caused by the actions of the tenant then the tenant may be responsible for fixing it and making any necessary repairs, or potentially paying for those repairs to be carried out. So as an example of that, you may see that mould can be caused, again, by that excess moisture. But that may be created by a tenant if they allow steam to build up in the bathroom by not using extractor fans or properly ventilating the area, or by not cleaning the area properly because the tenant is responsible for cleaning the property while they’re living in there. Or, if there's a vermin problem, for instance caused by the tenant’s actions, then the tenant may be responsible for that.

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Host: Now, how can property managers and owners prepare for minimum housing standard? 

Guest: The best way is to visit the Residential Tenancies Authority website where you can find that full list of minimum housing standards and make sure that your property complies with these standards before they apply to your rental property. So, getting in before they come into effect [is something] we would absolutely recommend. As an example, you know making sure that you've got locks or latches on all external facing windows and that there's adequate privacy coverings on the windows.  

When it comes to during a tenancy, making sure that you keep the lines of communication open with the tenants. So, if something unexpected happens potentially leading to the property not complying with minimum housing standards. For example, a pipe might burst causing damage to the property, or an appliance which was supplied with the property that may develop a fault. If something like this does happen, follow the emergency repair process outlined on the RTA website and make sure that you keep the tenants informed if there are any delays, or if entry to the property is needed. 

Host: What will these legislation changes mean for tenants? 

Guest: Certainly. The legislation changes will give tenants more options if they believe that the property doesn't meet minimum housing standards. Once the minimum housing standards come into effect, repairs to bring the property up to these standards will be classified as emergency repairs. There is a specific process that tenants can follow for emergency repairs and they'll be able to follow that where it relates to minimum housing standards. If a tenant or tenants have just moved into the property, they may also have the ability to give notice and leave the property within the first seven days on the grounds that the property does not meet minimum housing standards.  

However, I'll preach caution with that because, as ever in these situations, you need to make sure that you're being careful and following the legislation closely. If the property manager or the owner doesn't agree with the tenant’s position and they believe that the property does meet minimum housing standards they may then apply to take the matter to QCAT, QCAT being the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. QCAT, if it's presented to them, will offer both sides a chance to give evidence, but if they find that the property did in fact meet the minimum housing standards they may order something like compensation for breaking the lease to the property manager or the owner. So, we'd always encourage the tenant to talk to the property manager or owner in the first instance if they think that the property doesn't comply with minimum housing standards and try to come to an arrangement. It is often the quickest and easiest way to deal with any tenancy issues. 

Host: Now, you've mentioned emergency repair process a few times here Sam. What is the emergency repair process? 

Guest: Emergency repairs are actually specifically defined in the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008. Once minimum housing standards come into effect, as I said, any repairs needed to make the property comply with these standards will be classified as emergency repairs. To detail what the emergency repairs process is: tenants or the property manager would have the option to make repairs up to the value of four weeks rent on behalf of the owner. If it's the property manager doing it, then the property manager can actually deduct the cost of the repairs from rental payments and then send the remainder of the rent amount to the owner. They can take the money before dispersing the rent to pay for emergency repairs. If the tenant is having the repairs carried out, again, they can do it up to the value of four weeks' worth of rent. It doesn't mean that they can withhold rent, so it's not the same thing as ‘I'm not going to pay my rent, I'm going to use that to make emergency repairs’. It's just that the amount that they can pay while they still pay their normal rent, the amount that they can authorise for repairs, is up to the value of four weeks rent. In that instance, the tenant should keep receipts and then seek reimbursement for the repairs from the property manager or the owner.  

If there are issues with the property which means that it doesn't comply with minimum housing standards, the tenant also now has the option to make an urgent application to QCAT for a repair order. Just quickly, urgent application does not just mean ‘important’, and non-urgent mean ‘not important’ - that's not what they're what they're referring to. An urgent application just means that you can go straight to QCAT, that you can apply straight to them without coming through the RTA's dispute resolution service. A non-urgent application means that you have to come through dispute resolution with the RTA before you can progress through the QCAT. This is classified under the legislation as an urgent application, so straight to QCAT. If the repair order is made, that repair order is legally binding and outlines the repairs which the owner must make to the property.  

Finally, if there's just a general dispute around repairs then either party always has the option to apply for the RTA's free dispute resolution. There are different rules around seeking repairs if you're in rooming accommodation, so I really recommend that you have a look at our website for more information. 

Host: Now any final tips from you Sam? 

Guest: Not tips as such, [however] I think it's just really important to note that these are minimum housing standards, so these are for the vast majority of rental properties in Queensland. I would hope that they are reasonably safe and secure and that they have reasonable functionality. This is not, you know, this is minimum. This is the minimum kind of safe property that you can expect to have to be able to feel safe to be able to feel secure, and to have everything in the property working. Minimum housing standards just helps to clarify exactly what that looks like. So, it makes it less confusing for people hopefully, and makes it very clear that this is the minimum and that you need to be able to meet. 

Host: Amazing. Well, thank you, Sam, for helping us to get a greater understanding of minimum housing standards and what these legislative changes mean for everyone renting in Queensland.

Guest: Thanks Belinda. 

Original publication on 21 Jul 2023
Last updated on 21 Jul 2023

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