Energy efficiency standards for rental homes
Renters’ homes are less energy-efficient than owner-occupiers’ homes – a fact well known by renters and housing experts alike. We live in older, draughtier homes. Owner-occupied homes are five times more likely to have any form of solar power, four times more likely to have insulation, and twice as likely to have efficient reverse cycle air-con units.
As we continue through one of the warmest autumns on record the potential impacts of our changing climate have been at the front of many people’s mind. For renters one impact is the increased and unavoidable cost of increasingly expensive energy to cool or heat our homes to a comfortable level.
Not too long ago the NSW government through the Office of Environment and Heritage actually drafted a good plan to address these issues. They proposed to implement minimum energy efficiency standards for all rental homes and require property owners to bring properties up to standard. They would also implement a ratings system that would tell people what they were getting before moving in. In NSW this plan was projected to save $987 million dollars of renters’ electricity bills over 30 years and would easily pay for itself in economic benefits.
These two actions have been implemented in different forms in the UK, and both Queensland and Victoria have announced similar plans. In the ACT they have star ratings but not the standards. A recent study there found that two in five properties scored zero stars (and only a quarter of advertised rental properties bothered getting the rating at all). Clearly the two strategies have to go together.
Unfortunately in NSW the two strategies seem to have gone nowhere. It has been more than a year since the last consultations. The good news is that these changes still have broad political support – a February YouGov Galaxy poll showed that 77 per cent of NSW voters, with little difference across party lines, supported implementing minimum energy efficiency standards for both new and existing rental homes. 86 per cent supported the government investing money towards improving energy efficiency.
Ultimately there are limits to energy-efficient homes. Many properties, especially apartments, can’t easily be modified once built. Some are not suitable for technology like solar panels. We need more investment to create energy from sustainable sources so that the associated costs will continue to come down.
We can make a real difference in the lives of millions of renters in NSW. Government should feel empowered to make bold moves to bring rental homes up to a good standard. It will be good for them at the ballot box. It will be good for us in our homes.
Leo Patterson Ross is Senior Policy Officer with the Tenants’ Union of NSW.
This article first published on the Social Justice page of the SSH. Printing sponsored by Uniting: www.uniting.org