9 November 2021

Minimum ceiling insulation for rental properties a step closer

| Ian Bushnell
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Shane Rattenbury

Energy Minister Shane Rattenbury expects legislation by the middle of next year. Photo: File.

Canberra’s notorious energy-sucking rental iceboxes and swelter shelters may soon be banished to the past under a government proposal for landlords to meet a minimum standard for ceiling insulation, as part of overall plans for minimum energy efficiency standards.

Consultation has opened on how the government’s plans will be implemented, including a phase-in period.

Energy Minister Shane Rattenbury said the lack of adequate insulation contributed to unhealthy homes and cost tenants far too much to heat and cool their rented premises.

“Everyone deserves to live in a home that is comfortable and energy-efficient, but due to poor energy efficiency in our buildings, many Canberrans are living in homes that are expensive to heat in winter and cool in summer,” he said.

“Not only is there an economic impact; in many cases, this is having a negative effect on health and wellbeing.”

Mr Rattenbury said some homes were dangerously cold in winter and then dangerously hot in summer.

“It is often the case that those with the least capacity to pay have no choice but to live in properties that are the most expensive to heat and cool – this is inequitable, and this new minimum standard will help address this issue,” he said.

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This new consultation will complement previous work related to the government’s long-held intention to introduce minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties. This is the first stage in implementing these standards.

“We now want to further involve the community, particularly renters and rental providers, in charting the pathway to getting this new insulation standard in place,” Mr Rattenbury said.

The government wants to hear from the general community, but especially renters and landlords on a number of issues before drafting legislation to introduce the regulation in the middle of next year.

Key issues include how long the phase-in period should be for the new energy efficiency standard, what financial assistance should be provided, what safety measures will be required and when any work should be required to be undertaken, such as at the start of a lease or at any time in the phase-in period.

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) welcomed the move, saying more than a third of Canberrans rent their home and pay the highest rents of any Australian capital city.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said these households should be guaranteed that their home doesn’t compromise their health or contribute to further financial stress through poor energy efficiency and high energy bills.

“This is a good start, but it is only a start. We are pleased that the ACT Government recognises this and has committed to consider additional measures in future stages,” she said.

“We also welcome the consideration of measures complementing ceiling insulation such as draught-proofing, double glazing or curtaining in this first stage. These are critical to ensuring the benefits of better ceiling insulation are fully realised, rather than literally slipping through the gaps.

“Future stages of this policy will have to address the need for minimum standards around energy-efficient heating and cooling of rental properties. The ACT Government should set out a clear path towards realising this during this first stage.”

ACTCOSS, which is part of the national Healthy Homes for Renters campaign, will be making a submission and urges others to have their say.

The consultation closes on 19 December. To learn more, visit the YourSay website.

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Labor is great for Canberra. We have these great changes and rent falls accordingly. Thank you Mr Barr

To be honest, I’m surprised that there are homes in Canberra without ceiling insulation.
Ceiling insulation in itself however doesn’t achieve a lot, if the house is poorly aligned and has single pane windows. Even with ceiling insulation, the house will still be a cold box.

Sigh. Oh dear. Yet another lot of dumb ideas from the ACT govt that will only further increase rent prices (who is going to pay for all these updated expensive changes to properties?) and also further reduce the already limited rental supply (rental properties are already extremely scarce in Canberra so why put an unnecessary additional burden on an already limited rental market?). When you choose to rent out a house, you take it as it is. If you don’t like the property, don’t rent it. And those naive people who say ‘rentals are limited, people take what they can get’ – well yes, that is the point I am making, read my first sentence again. Questions to ask yourself: if the ACT is so fair and reasonable to landlords, why is there such a low supply of rental properties in Canberra? Why is Canberra considered one of the worst places in Australia to be a landlord? Why do property investors not want to invest in Canberra? Why are so many landlords leaving the Canberra market?
FACT: ‘The number of vacant rentals in Canberra is 24% lower than last year’ (source: Canberra Weekly article January 2021). Keep on doing what you are doing ACT government – you are doing an amazing job in reducing the amount of rental properties in Canberra!!!!!

That last paragraph makes a false comparison. The number of vacant rentals is neither equal nor necessarily proportional to the amount of rental properties in Canberra.

What has been the change in quantity of all rental properties, rented or not?

Given very high rates of property purchase price growth in Canberra in the last year it is unremarkable that rental vacancies might travel in the other direction from price of the alternative. In fact a high demand phase for rentals might be a great time to be invested.

This is clearly a good idea that should be win-win for all reasonable people.

Landlords will have a better product to offer and renters will be more comfortable with lower bills.

The city will also have lower peak electricity and gas demands which means lower bills for all.

Do people honestly think putting a minimum insulation requirement as a big impost?

All it will do is make it harder to find a rental property in ACT. The ACT Government’s ever increasing requirements and land taxes are simply making it not worth investing in property in the ACT so investors will buy properties elsewhere.
When it’s harder to find a rental property, rents increase – you might have been better off just paying the extra heating bill (or putting on a jumper) for a couple of months rather than higher rent for the whole year.

Agree Tim. But some people in the ACT government lack common sense (they don’t understand things like putting on a jumper)

Why is it that in a supposedly intelligent city people cannot understand that imposing minimum insulation standards raises costs for property owners, which leads to rent rises, which means housing becomes even less affordable for low income earners that it already is. Greens/Labor rules mean that the option and choice of low cost housing is removed for those who need to stay in low cost, low budget accommodation. Greens meanz housing unaffordability.

Surely reasonable standards of minimum insulation should not be a ‘stretch’ goal in any reasonable well functioning housing market.

Your point is reasonable, but having lived at times in some of the horrendous excuses for ‘rentals’ in this town, I can fully understand why the issue is seen as a priority as well.

If introduced in a graduated fashion (I.e. landlords have time to comply, and where reasonable support is provided), then I don’t see any significant problem. If a landlord is not just not milking the property for every $ they can without putting any money into maintaining it (something seen more often than normal I’d expect within properties that are likely to fall into the categories being discussed here), then surely its something that can reasonably planned for and implemented.

And remember – there should be a direct financial benefit to tenants here too. Better insulated properties are easier to heat/cool (and importantly to maintain temperatures within), so reduce their overall costs on that side. So it isn’t the straightforward equation you suggest from their perspective – despite the protestations of ‘let them eat cake’…..

Did you read the article?

JS9: If a property owner’s own home does not have ceiling insultation (or double glazing or wall insulation or curtaining etc) why should they be forced to provide that for their tenants in a rental property? You cannot expect people to have to provide a higher quality residence for their tenants, than they have for themselves. Many (most?) rental property owners/landlords have just the one rental investment property. Probably a townhouse or basic 3 bedroom house. The more onerous the Greens make life for property owners the more inclined they will be to put their money into alternative investments, like shares, which will further reduce the number of rental properties and put upwards pressure on rents. Look at what ACTCOSS says – ceiling insulation requirements are just a star so ACTROSS will be contributing to poverty by reducing the supply of affordable accomodation through pushing up rental costs. Clearly logic, common sence and an understanding of economics are beyond the mental capacity of the Greens.

If it was as bad as Mr Rattenbury suggests, the renters would only rent properties that were insulated to their satisfaction, then the landlords would be forced to insulate their properties to attract tenants.
Oh, but you say: “the tenants can’t afford to rent a better-insulated property”? So what makes you think they will suddenly be able to afford to rent a better-insulated property just because the landlord was *forced* to provide better insulation?
It’s a bit like demanding Kia build their cars to the same standard as Mercedes because I can’t afford to buy a Mercedes but still have a ‘right’ to drive a car of that standard.

Except even if the landlords are able to slightly raise rents which is doubtful, as JS9 says above, the tenants will save money through lower heating and cooling bills for their homes.

And the city overall will pay less for these services because peak electricity/gas demand periods will be reduced.

I honestly don’t know why anyone would complain about this. Unless of course they are a landlord trying to shaft their tenants in every way possibly in extremely run down rentals.

An important issue for people whose income over costs is marginally close to 1 is predictability of costs as well as amount. Paying a bit more each month to flatten the peaks of highly variable and and rising energy prices is not only beneficial for the renter economically (not to mention their comfort) but surely makes an attractive proposition for the landlord to attract good renters as well as income.

I understand one of the senior ACT government ministers has a $7 million house in Melbourne. But is it insulated?

Rents, avoid paying rent, can afford pets, can enjoy basically rent control, heating and cooling.
How long before the landlords are paying the income support of the freeloaders?

Not sure how after 50 years some Canberra properties are now dangerous.
Perhaps its now a human right to wear board shorts in the middle of winter.

Government wins this one as they are chipping in for low income utilities.

Just putting it out there, but how is having a property that can be reasonably heated and cooled ‘freeloading’. Let alone having what most see as a reasonable right (within reason) to keep a pet?

If they are talking about slum landlords, then yes, absolutely make them lift their game.

If they are talking about ordinary landlords, a lot more thought needs to be given into why the property is hot and cold.

We topped up the insulation in our owner occupied property and have good curtains, but it’s still an icebox. The house is poorly aligned; it doesn’t have any north-facing windows and those windows are all single paned.

Short of physically lifting up and turning around our house to face north, the only other thing we could do is double-glaze the windows but the cost to do that would be prohibitive.

So when the Government talks of making landlords improve the energy efficiency of their properties they must think everyone is made of money. What about us ordinary people with cold houses?

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