Many renters would be breathing sighs of relief as spring began, according to a new report by Better Renting which found 70% of rental homes are too cold.
Power Struggles: Renting in Winter tracked temperature data from 60 rental homes from June 1 to August 15. It found that the majority were below 18°C, the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline for minimum indoor temperature.
Median indoor temperatures for rentals in the ACT and Tasmania were always below 18°C, meaning they were below the WHO guidelines at least 50% of the time.
Median temperatures for rentals in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were below 18°C at least 90% of the time.
Queensland was the only state in which median indoor temperatures did not fall below 18°C: they only dropped below 18°C for 18% of the recorded period.
The report also compared the temperature indoors and outdoors and found that homes were, on average, 4°C warmer inside than outside. NSW and SA had the smallest difference — 2.8°C and 3.5°C respectively.
Living in median indoor temperatures below 18°C has been linked with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and poor mental health.
The report also cited the “financial strain” of high energy bills to keep homes warm which lead to “anxiety and constant worry”.
“At the same time, living in a cold home is depressing. Renters shut down their lives and their homes … in an attempt to get through winter without ending up in insurmountable debt.”
Temperatures were not the only aspect measured by the report which found “a missing part of the picture is energy costs and the potential price renters pay in order to have a less cold home”.
The report divides homes into four categories: “cold and costly”, with poor insulation and inefficient heating appliances; “costly comfort”, with poor insulation but the ability to heat at a high price; “low-cost cosy”, mostly owner-occupiers who’s homes do not require much heating due to good insulation and design; and “low access to heat + higher energy efficiency”, meaning well insulated homes without access to heating appliances. The report did not find many homes fitting this latter description.
Renters’ powerlessness is “the fundamental problem”, the report said.
“This lack of power manifests in … the inability to make homes livable through winter, to having no power to compel the landlord to make repairs.
“One of the biggest issues renters shared was the subpar quality of their homes which left them shivering and feeling trapped through winter,” the report said.
“Renters in Australia also lack the power to compel a landlord to make repairs … [and] to add further insult to injury, the onus of making landlords face their legal responsibility also falls on renters.”
The poor quality of rental homes has economic, physical and mental health costs on renters.
The “glaring power imbalance” between landlords and renters is critical to resolving these problems.
The report recommended changing rental laws to implement minimum energy efficiency standards, ending no-cause evictions and limiting rent increases.
It also called for a third-party regulatory body to ensure landlord compliance, rather than leave it to renters.
Finally, the report said a bigger supply of rental homes is needed, as well as a “flourishing public housing sector” so that renters have more options.
“For too long, we’ve accepted substandard conditions as the norm, relegating renters to the status of second-class citizen. But a home that’s warm, dry and decent is not a luxury — it’s an essential.”