Tenants' rights groups call for more protection from the cold this winter

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on April 30, 2021
Tenants' rights groups call for more protection from the cold this winter

With winter fast approaching, many renters are living in poorly-insulated homes, and advocacy groups want more protection for tenants facing the cold.

Analysis by CHOICE has found there's currently a lack of rights for tenants when it comes to proper insulation and energy-efficiency in their homes, and owner-occupied properties are far more likely to be cold-weather suited. 

Proper insulation can reduce energy consumption by as much as 40-50% in winter, according to Sustainability Victoria, as well as protecting inhabitants from the cold, yet CHOICE says less than half of rental properties currently have acceptable insulation.

"Many people feel scared or unable to report poor insulation for fear of being evicted by their landlord," CHOICE senior policy and campaigns adviser Patrick Veyret said. 

"We've heard from countless people who put up with terrible conditions rather than risk losing their home."

Related: Rising energy costs a major concern for 96% of Australians

According to CHOICE's research, states currently have very little regulation to protect renters from poor insulation in their homes and the resulting high power bills:

NSW 

Energy efficiency standards weren't included in the NSW new minimum standards for rental homes set in March 2020, according to Jemima Mowbray, policy and advocacy coordinator for the Tenants Union of NSW.

"You have a right to repair the house to that standard that it's in a 'liveable' state, but that doesn't mean that it's energy-efficient," she said. 

Victoria

By 2023 almost all Victorian rental homes will be required to have a minimum two-star energy-rated heater, but that's about it, which secretary of the Renters and Housing Union Eirene Tsolidis Noyce says isn't enough. 

"We are talking about the bare minimum that renters should be able to have in the homes they are paying increasingly exorbitant rents for," she told CHOICE. 

Queensland 

Tenants Queensland CEO Penny Carr says minimum standards legislation will soon be introduced in Queensland, but it isn't clear if cold-weather protection will be included. 

"As long as it's fit to live in, it is legal. That doesn't mean that it's energy-efficient," Ms Carr said. 

The ACT 

The ACT is the only state or territory in Australia where a home's energy efficiency star rating must be disclosed before a new tenant moves in, but Better Renting's Joel Dingham says these regulations often aren't enforced. 

"There is a lot of non-compliance with that requirement. While it is part of the legislation, it's not enforced at all," Mr Dingham said. 

"Our research found about one in three rental properties advertise an energy-efficiency statement."

In late 2019, all states and territories agreed to establish a framework for energy-efficiency standards for renters by the end of 2022, to be implemented in law by 2025.

But as things stand, there's currently a lack of incentives for landlords to pay for energy-efficiency and insulation in homes they don't live in, nor for renters to do so in homes they don't own. 

But should there be? 


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Should landlords be rewarded for making homes more energy-efficient? 

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) released a report last year that argued in favour of incentivising landlords to improve their property's energy efficiency.

According to the report, 18% of public renters and 14% of private renters were unable to keep sufficiently warm in winter, and the University of Adelaide's Dr Lyrian Daniel said incentives could help solve this issue. 

"This could be done through landlords being able to claim tax rebates or other financial assistance so that appliances, such as old, inefficient hot-water services, could be upgraded to more energy efficient models instead of replaced with ‘like-for-like’," Dr Daniel said.

The Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) however supported individual homeowners and landlords making improvements instead. 

"If the incentives are such that the cost - including subsidy or tax benefit - is less than the present day value of the value of the future benefits (rental returns and dwelling value) to the landlord, the landlord will undertake the improvements," REIA president Adrian Kelly told Savings.com.au.

See also: Green energy leading to 9% cheaper electricity

2021 budget "must provide energy hardship support"

Ahead of the May Federal Budget, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has called on the government to provide more support to low-income earners struggling with energy bills. 

Following the recent permanent cut to JobSeeker and other income support payments, ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said people living on $44 a day have little hope of affording their next energy bill.

“We know people on low-incomes are already depriving themselves of energy by not heating their homes and going without food or medicines to be able to afford their energy bills, which is seriously affecting their health and wellbeing," Dr Goldie said. 

“We need to nip this in the bud before debt spirals out of control and becomes unmanageable.

“The Government should use the Budget as an opportunity to create a fairer future – not leave people behind in crisis, including being stuck in energy debt and freezing through winter."

Dr Goldie said the government should provide an emergency payment of up to $1,000 per customer experiencing payment difficulties.

“As this measure will help relieve debt for energy retailers, we expect retailers to also step up and provide additional relief to those customers with debt greater than $1,000, and help customers reduce their bills going forward.”

Australian Energy Regulator (AER) data found the average energy debt is now $1,008 - which ACOSS used for its $1,000 figure - and the number of people with energy debts rose 32% in 2020. 


Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

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William Jolly joined Savings.com.au as a Financial Journalist in 2018, after spending two years at financial research firm Canstar. In William's articles, you're likely to find complex financial topics and products broken down into everyday language. He is deeply passionate about improving the financial literacy of Australians and providing them with resources on how to save money in their everyday lives.

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