A new report from the University of Adelaide has found the rental housing sector must set minimum standards for energy performance to protect the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Australians.
The research – Warm, cool and energy-affordable housing solutions for low-income renters – released today, provides essential evidence on the vulnerability of public and private tenants to energy hardship.
Energy hardship – where households cannot afford to heat and cool their home or run appliances within it – has become a pressing issue in recent years, particularly for those living in the rental sector.
“Barriers to improving living conditions vary across the private rental sector and social housing sector so a range of different interventions will be needed.”Dr Lyrian Daniel
Tenant households are unequally exposed to energy hardship because of poor building quality and weak regulation of the sector.
Lead author, Dr Lyrian Daniel, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Architecture and Built Environment, said the challenges are amplified for individuals with very low or no income, existing health issues, poor support networks, or facing entrenched social and economic disadvantage.
“Barriers to improving living conditions vary across the private rental sector and social housing sector so a range of different interventions will be needed,” she said.
“These include mandatory building standards, targeted financial or material assistance for very vulnerable households, and investment in the public housing sector.”
While countries including the UK, New Zealand, and Canada have comprehensive policy responses to these issues, Australia suffers from a lack of consensus on what constitutes ‘safe’ housing – and tenants’ rights to it – which acts as an impediment to the creation of safeguards.
“Setting minimum standards for the energy performance of rental properties is a critical starting point in the process of reform, which some jurisdictions have already begun to undertake, independent of national leadership,” Dr Daniel said.
“This report is exceptionally timely with issues of poor housing conditions and increasing cost of living exacerbated by various stages of COVID restrictions and job losses across Australia. The quality of our housing and our living environments have never been so important.”
Warm, cool and energy-affordable housing solutions for low-income renters was funded by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.