By | 5 Nov 2023
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Renters in Victoria cop it from all sides. Limited housing availability drives up rental prices, pressuring the power imbalance between renter and rental provider. Rental standards are poor – in Victoria the minimum energy efficiency standard is just 2 stars – and often rental properties fall below even these minimum standards.

The rental crisis is a social and environmental crisis. Rental properties are some of the most leaky and inefficient buildings, creating an excessive drain on energy resources to heat in winter and cool in summer as well as an additional financial burden for renters paying the energy bills. Gas is linked to a 12% increase in asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and is common for space heating, hot water and cooking in Victorian rentals. Victorian rentals are not required to have air conditioning, reducing the likelihood that renters can use a split system to heat their home. An efficient, renewably powered all-electric building can be as much as $2500 a year cheaper to run than a house that uses gas for heating, cooking and hot water.

This is an issue both for the health and wellbeing of the third of the population who rent – and the climate. Inefficient space heating used to heat inefficient houses is an economic, social and environmental disaster taking its toll across the community.

Earlier this year Friends of the Earth Melbourne launched the Get Off Gas site giving Victorians a way to say they want to get off gas, and demonstrate how much gas could be saved if these households switch to renewable energy. When people take the pledge they tell us if they are owner-occupiers, private renters or living in social or public housing, and can leave a comment about their circumstances. Comments from renters paint a bleak picture; stuck in a house that costs a fortune to keep warm and exacerbates their children’s asthma, wall heaters that the landowner won’t maintain leaking deadly carbon monoxide in the home.

So what are the solutions? We recommend some simple steps in tackling the rental crisis.

  • Mandate advertised energy ratings for all rental property listings.
  • Index rental income taxation against the energy standards of rental properties – the lower the energy standards the higher the tax margin.
  • State and Federal government subsidised energy efficiency upgrade and solar installation schemes be means tested against household income, rather than landowner income to incentivise rental offerings for lower income households, with the balance payable by landowners.
  • Banning evictions or rent increases for 24 months after completion of energy upgrades to ensure that lower income households can enjoy the benefits of living in more efficient homes with lower energy bills.

We are currently in conversation with the office of Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio about the importance of reforms to help improve rental energy standards, mandating all-electric, efficient and renewably powered homes and are calling on the Energy, Housing and Health Ministers to host a round table next year bringing together peak bodies to plan for better rental standards in this term of Parliament.

The sooner we take steps to ensure that rentals are more efficient and removed from the gas system the better, for their health, hip pockets and for the health of the climate.

Freja Leonard, FoE