As we face rising temperatures this summer, spare a thought for those renters that live in poorly-insulated homes without cooling. In the context of climate change and extreme weather events, we know that older people and those living with chronic health issues are at risk of heatstroke and even death. There is also significant research and policy evidence on the economic and health benefits of making rental homes energy efficient and, therefore, more affordable.
The Victorian Government’s draft residential tenancy regulations achieve key improvements in the safety, affordability and rights of tenants. There are now bond limits, minimum standards and family violence protection, and mould is now categorised under urgent repairs. However, disappointingly, the draft regulations set no minimum standards for energy efficiency and health, to improve the liveability of a rental property in summer.
Whilst there is acknowledgement that there are strong public health concerns and an awareness of fuel poverty (i.e. the underuse of energy to save money), minimum standards for the energy efficiency of homes has been deferred to the future. An older renter on a fixed lower income (i.e. pension) has little scope to pay more and meet the energy costs of a poorly-insulated home. For older people, low energy use due to constrained finances has a direct correlation to negative physical, mental and social well-being.
With rising inequality cutting across all generations, Victoria experienced a 33% increase in older people moving into the rental market in the five years to 2016. What is disturbing about this trend is the reduced capacity of older renters to leave the rental market and their increased risk of homelessness if rent and energy bills become unaffordable. Surely, we have a social contract to set standards for housing that ensure no harm.
Minimum energy efficiency standards must be addressed sooner rather than later. You have until this Wednesday to make a submission to the Victorian Government on its draft regulations for rental housing.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Australia’s health 2018. Australia’s health series no. 16. AUS 221. Canberra: AIHW.
 Gordon, R., Harada, T., Schuster, L., McGregor, A., Waitt, G., Cooper, P (2019). Final Report Prepared for Energy Consumers Australia: Exploring the nexus of energy use, ageing, and health and well-being among older Australians. Sydney: Macquarie University. P6