Winter reveals the cold hard truth about many rentals

Australia has experienced a particularly cold, wet winter and, according to multiple sources, many renters are struggling to stay warm in sub-standard, inadequately heated and ventilated properties. How can you be certain that all the properties you manage comply with minimum standards?

An article published by ABC news on July 15 highlighted the plight of renters shivering through “freezing” conditions in their own homes. For example, a couple living in Sydney have a room with no door that they refer to as ‘Antarctica’, saying the icy conditions are taking a toll on their physical and mental health. They have even resorted to wearing beanies indoors. However, like so many renters all over Australia, the couple are afraid to raise the issue with their landlord for fear of being evicted at a time when rentals are in short supply. Instead, the couple have decided to take part in a national project run by Better Renting, a community-run organisation that has been monitoring sites nationally to determine their interior temperatures and check those against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of a minimum temperature of 18 degrees Celsius.

Of the 70 sites currently being monitored, Better Renting project coordinators say the results so far are “concerning” with homes found to be below the minimum standard 70% of the time and some recording internal temperatures as low as 6 degrees Celsius. Participants are also being asked about the impact the cold temperatures are having on their wellbeing. Mental health was listed as the factor most affected by living in a cold home.

The data being collected is in line with a study conducted in 2019 of about 15,000 rentals across Australia conducted by the University of Adelaide. The study found a quarter of respondents lived in unhealthy housing, including homes with temperatures below the minimum recommendation. The findings led the researchers to calculate that around 1.1 million Australians are likely still living in sub-standard housing today, despite tenancy reforms happening in most parts of the country.

Professor Emma Baker, who heads up the Housing and Healthy Cities Research Group at the University of Adelaide, says the data collected by Better Renting is alarming but not surprising. She says cold housing can “tip” otherwise healthy people into having mental health issues. “It might be via worry about not being able to afford to heat your home, or the drudgery of living in an uncomfortable living environment, or the sadness of not being able to provide your kids warmth.”

There are calls for minimum housing standards to be established nationally for heating and insulation of rentals, however not everyone agrees. REIA President Hayden Groves warns that mandating standards would force some owners out of the market, which would push rental prices up even higher.  In his view, tenants should negotiate better heating and insulation with their landlords and potentially chip in to help pay for modifications. However, with energy prices and the cost of living in general soaring, this would be easier said than done. Furthermore, the view of the Sydney couple being fearful of raising the problem with their landlord would not be an isolated case. With a rental crisis being experienced in almost every state and territory, many tenants would no doubt do almost anything, including put up with living in a cold home, to avoid being evicted.

Here at PropertySafe, we believe everyone has a right to live in a home where they are not subjected to the health and wellbeing implications of living in the cold, amongst other potential health and safety hazards. Ultimately it is in the best interests of landlords and property managers for all rental properties to be well-maintained, safe and sound as prevention is always better than the cure. This keeps good tenants staying longer, reducing vacancy periods and ensuring you’re a step ahead for when minimum health and safety standards come into effect. It has already begun in Victoria and being reviewed in other states.

The most comprehensive way to ensure safety for tenants and provide peace of mind for landlords and your agency in winter and year-round is to have one of our professional reports completed by one of our experienced Inspectors. To learn more, call PropertySafe on 1300 350 000.