2 July 2018

Chill bill: Canberra's cold houses cost renters $39 million a year

| Ian Bushnell
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A lack of energy efficiency in Canberra's rental stock is hitting renters' pockets and health. Photo: File

A lack of energy efficiency in Canberra’s rental stock is hitting renters’ pockets and health.

The low energy efficiency of Canberra’s rental housing is costing renters $39 million a year, according to a new report.

Frozen out: The Burden of Energy Deficiency on People who Rent by advocacy organisation Better Renting found rentals rated less than five on the ACT Home Energy Rating (ACTHERS) scheme were leading renters to lose out on significant cost savings and warmth.

The report, which was released on the day that electricity prices in the ACT increased by 14 per cent, finds that a three-bedroom home with an energy efficiency rating (EER) of zero would cost renters an extra $2,800 a year to be as warm as a home with a rating of five.

“People who rent are being frozen out of the benefits of energy efficiency,” said Better Renting Director Joel Dignam.

“Renters in energy deficient homes must choose between spending more to be as warm as people in higher-rated homes, or enduring dangerous indoor temperatures through winter.”

Mr Dignam said that for some renters the cost was monetary but others such as older renters or people with disabilities were paying with their physical and mental health.

“With electricity costs going up, residential rental energy efficiency standards are a necessary and urgent measure to help all renters reduce their power bills,” he said.

Better Renting estimates that there are about 24,000 out of 45,320 rental properties in the ACT with an EER lower than five, and with an average household burden of just over $1,600, the total burden borne by all ACT renters living in energy-deficient properties equates to over $39 million.

The report estimates that for an average-sized property with an EER of zero, it would cost $2,800 to produce the same amount of heat that would be free in a property with an EER of five.

“To put it another way, renters in such a property are being frozen out of free heat equivalent to running two 2,000 W electric heaters 24/7 from mid-May to September,” it said.

Jackie Bysouth, a 47-year-old mother of four, said that living in a draughty rental house with no carpets had been a trial for the family.

“Even though we keep the heater on all the time, have ceiling insulation and put draught stoppers on the windows and door, the house is still freezing. The owner promised to install underfloor insulation nine months ago, but has not yet delivered on this,” she said.

“I have rented my whole life, but the last seven years that I have spent in Canberra have been the coldest of my life.”

Director of the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) Susan Helyar and spokesperson for the ACT Energy Consumer Policy Consortium said the research backed what tenant advocacy, environmental, and business organisations had long been calling for – all privately-rented housing in the ACT must have a minimum energy-efficiency rating of five stars.

“This can be balanced by funding for landlords to make energy efficiency upgrades,” she said. “Such a measure could be included as part of the ACT Climate Change Mitigation Adaptation Strategy.”

The current Parliamentary Agreement between Labor and the Greens includes energy efficiency for rental properties as a key priority.

Better Renting has an ongoing campaign for minimum energy efficiency standards, with a petition available at www.betterrenting.org.au/comfy_homes.

The Better Renting report is available for download at: www.betterrenting.org.au/frozen_out_report

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The reality is there is no free money. If the owner spends money on insulation on an existing house this translates to increased rent. Its like land tax, it gets increased by the Govt. and this also flows through to increased rent. Its a pretty simple logic that seems to be lost. An investment property is just that – an investment.

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