Cruel summer for renters stuck in substandard homes

April 10, 2024
Renters can't escape the summer heat because of substandard homes and weak renter rights. Image: Green Left

Many renters are paying exorbitant prices for substandard homes that are insufficiently insulated from the heat in summer, a new report has found.

Better Renting’s report found that “rental housing [is] failing to perform one of its most basic functions: providing shelter from the elements”.

The rising cost-of-living, a hotter climate and substandard housing is forcing renters to live in places where temperatures of up to 45°C are considered normal.

More than 100 renters tracked temperatures and humidity from last December to February for the Cruel Summers report.

This is the third such report: Hot Homes and Sweaty and Stressed also found “renters experiencing indoor temperature and humidity outside of healthy ranges, with consequential adverse impacts on physical and mental health”.

However, this year’s results were more alarming as last year was the hottest year on record globally and the 2023–24 summer was Australia’s third hottest on record.

With the compounding impact of global climate change, future summers are likely to be even hotter. This means people’s health and wellbeing will increasingly become “a matter of life and death”.

Hot homes

Nationally, renters reported an average median temperature of 24.9°C. This means for roughly 50% of the time, internal temperatures were above 25°C.

Average median humidity was recorded nationally at about 60%, with high humidity making temperatures feel even hotter.

The highest average temperatures inside homes were reported in the Northern Territory (28.9°C), Queensland (28.2°C) and Western Australia (26.3°C).

Maximum indoor temperatures shot above 40°C in some states, including hitting 40.5°C in New South Wales, 41.4°C in Queensland and a whopping 45.3°C in South Australia.

For the first time, Better Renting was also able to track outdoor temperatures and found that in some states and territories it was often hotter inside than out.

In Queensland it was hotter inside 63.6% of the time, compared to NSW (42.5%), WA (37.4%) and NT (35.8%).

In Queensland and WA, temperatures were often 4°C hotter inside. NSW had 3°C degrees hotter and other states and territories between 2–2.7°C hotter.

A well-designed and built home is supposed to maintain a narrow range of temperatures (ideally between 18-24°C) regardless of temperatures outside.

But the report found that rentals are “not meeting this bar and are often even counterproductive, apparently leaving renters worse off than they would be outdoors”.

Using the data, Better Renting created four “renter archetypes” which explored the impact of cost-of-living pressure and housing quality on internal temperatures.

It found that almost half (45%) those surveyed said they were suffering from cost-of-living pressures and lower housing quality.

The research revealed “the biggest point of difference between renters in different categories was their access to resources” such as air conditioning (and the finances to actually run it), good social networks (family and friends they could stay with) and transport.

The research found that, in practice, hot homes had the biggest impact on sleep and health issues. One renter said they were forced to call an ambulance to go to hospital as they were unable to cool down to safe levels.

The report said all four archetypes were “unified by a shared belief that the rental system was structurally unjust and that whatever housing security they did have could not be taken for granted or be expected to last”.

The skyrocketing price of rentals and record low vacancy rates meant many renters were stuck in hot, low quality homes, unable to move and, fearing eviction and homelessness if they asked for upgrades.

Call for action

Responding to the report, a collective including Better Renting, Sweltering Cities, Antipoverty Centre, Everybody’s Home, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has called on federal Labor to retrofit public and social housing with climate upgrades by 2030.

It wants Labor to commit $1.8 billion on these climate upgrades, including rooftop solar, as well as ensure protections for private renters and people receiving welfare.

The collective said those on welfare more likely to live in substandard homes. Poor people make up about 32% of heat wave related deaths and 89% have a recorded disability.

Kellie Caught, ACOSS climate and energy program director, said “people experiencing financial and social disadvantage are the most severely and most persistently affected by higher temperatures”.

The government must use the budget to invest in home energy upgrades “across all low-income housing types”, she said. It also needs to “incentivise minimum energy efficiency rental standards and raise the rate of JobSeeker and related payments”.

Healthy Futures campaigner Ursula Alquier said “extreme heat can trigger heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes and even death among other health impacts”.

Antipoverty Centre spokesperson Jay Coonan said more funding is needed for the fund for household energy upgrades.

The Cruel Summers report wants minimum energy efficiency standards for rentals, renters’ rights to be improved and better monitoring of landlords compliance with rent laws. 

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.