Renters could save close to $1000 in power bills, improve their overall health and cut their carbon emissions if better energy efficiency standards were applied to rental homes, according to a new report.
The Bringing Rental Homes up to Scratch report, recently presented to a state government review of rental laws, identified a lack of government incentives for landlords to improve energy efficiency in their investment properties because the majority of the bill savings went back to tenants.
When Charlotte Bolcskey and her family moved into a weatherboard rental property in North Fitzroy, they found that inadequate insulation and only having a single gas heater in the living room proved to be unliveable in the long term.
“We lived through Black Saturday and the two crazy hot weeks preceding it in that house with a small baby. We had a portable air conditioner, but it was so hot that it made very little difference,” she said.
“In winter the place was draughty and freezing, and the gas heater would be blasting all day and night. Our power bills in winter were in the thousands. We ended up moving from that place because our kids kept getting sick and we needed better heating.”
The report outlines suggested minimum efficiency standards for rental homes, including a requirements to install modern heaters, better lighting, ceiling insulation and dual-flush toilets. These additions would cost landlords of the worst case properties an estimated $5500 over five years.
It calls for revisions of the Residential Tenancies Act to create new powers for the consumer affairs minister to set minimum enforceable standards for health, safety and efficiency of rental properties.
Rental properties are only required to meet whatever standards were in place when the houses were constructed – so though standards for new buildings have been steadily improving, rental homes had fallen behind and it is often renters who have to pay the price, the report found.
One of the report’s authors, Environment Victoria efficiency campaigner Anne Martinelli, said that in the worst cases, some rental homes remain stuck at building levels set up to 100 years ago.
“Victoria’s 600,000 rental homes are much less likely than owner-occupied homes to have basic efficiency measures like insulation,” she said. “This means renters are paying more for energy bills or putting up with dangerously hot or cold living conditions to save money.
“In this day and age, we should be able to ensure property owners run their business in a way that avoids endangering other people’s safety and wellbeing, in the same way that restaurant owners, transport providers and a host of other businesses face obligations relating to public safety.”