Landlords leading the way

Rental house

Landlords can take steps to make their investment more comfortable and efficient to live in. But with many measures at the landlord’s discretion, is it time to enforce a minimum standard in rental houses? By Jacinta Cleary

Those looking to rent a home often have no way of assessing the energy efficiency of a place, other than what they can glean from a rapid house inspection with tens of other house hunters in attendance.

The dwelling’s energy efficiency often becomes apparent on the tenant’s first hot or cold day in the house, though, when the sun hits the uninsulated extension tacked on the back of the home, or there’s a cold draught through a gap in the wall. The heating is switched on, or the air con if there’s a system in place, and the winter and summer electricity bills steadily rise.

Switched on tenants who can afford the upfront cost will make their own modifications to improve thermal efficiency, with window coverings for instance to keep the heat inside in winter, but it’s really a landlord’s responsibility to increase the energy efficiency and year-round comfort of their investment property.

Australia’s rental houses are only required to meet the building standards that were in place when they were built, which for some homes could be 100 years ago. With this disparity in mind, Environment Victoria is campaigning as part of the One Million Homes Alliance for a common minimum standard for Victoria’s rental houses. Campaigns in other states include the ACT Comfy Homes campaign, which is calling on the ACT government to establish a similar minimum standard.

As well as the environmental benefits that energy efficiency upgrades bring, the campaigns bring attention to the social issues associated with living in a house that’s uncomfortable and unaffordable to run. Environment Victoria’s Bringing Rental Homes Up To Scratch report highlights that Victorians are renting for longer due to home ownership being increasingly out of reach, with the share of households renting for more than ten years doubling since 1990 and, of the 600,000 rental households in Victoria, the proportion of families with children has risen to 37%. Inefficient housing can have a negative impact on health, especially that of the very young and elderly. ABS data found that renters were the largest group of households unable to heat their home (37%) or pay their bills on time (42%), yet they are around half as likely as owner-occupied homes to have basic energy efficiency measures such as insulation that would help reduce bills.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

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