Environment Victoria supporter, Toni Radcliffe, shares her experience of living in one of Victoria’s many substandard rental properties.
It’s 9 pm and I’m sitting at the dining table wearing four layers of clothing including my heavy winter coat, with my fingertips slowly turning blue. Just another standard winter weeknight for me and many other renters. We live in properties that make you choose between shivering through winter (and sweltering in summer) or haemorrhaging cash in an attempt to keep vaguely warm.
Looks innocent from the outside, but this home in Kensington is one of thousands of poorly insulated rental properties in Victoria.
This place is modern, and for a change I have a home where most of the doors and windows are sealed. We have central gas heating, which should keep us toasty, but in a two-storey open plan layout with broken vertical blinds on the windows, the heat escapes to the uninsulated ceiling space and the cold slinks through the abundance of uncovered glass.
Despite our best efforts, the laws of physics insist on this scandalous heat loss. Turning the heating on high enough to provide minor warming incurs major cost, so we wear coats indoors, huddle under blankets, and hide in our bedrooms through the long winter months.
It baffles me that we still have housing with no insulation in our climate. It flabbergasts me that it’s legal to rent out properties in Victoria without proper window coverings: backed curtains or blinds that reflect heat in summer and seal in warmth in winter.It flabbergasts me that it’s legal to rent out properties in Victoria without proper window coverings: backed curtains or blinds that reflect heat in summer and seal in warmth in winter.Click To Tweet
The place before this, the rear of the house faced north, an expanse of glass open to the sun with no window coverings whatsoever. I had unsuccessfully asked the landlord for curtains, and as winter drew in, I spent my own money and labour buying and installing them, right down to hanging the curtain rods. I also weather-sealed the windows and stuffed old blankets up the chimney to block the drafts, but the place still leaked air like an aged balloon.
Absent insulation and inadequate heating, it’s a common lament. A mate’s place in Balwyn North came with underfloor heating that tripled their electricity bill the first month they used it. That was also the last time they used it. Another friend spends winters working from bed as it’s the only way to keep warm. At my very first place out of home I kept a lit candle at my desk for warming my fingers up on late nights studying.
The kicker is that tenants are powerless to do much to improve energy efficiency, and the higher energy costs we incur erodes our capacity to save for a place of our own. The inequality is exacerbated as we renters can’t install rooftop solar to lower our power bills. Where I’ve shelled out to seal the windows and hang curtains I haven’t been able to stay long enough to recoup the cost.
Sometimes you win though: one excellent landlord sealed the old sash windows and caulked up cracks in the wood-panel ceiling, solving serious heat loss problems for less than $50, and proving major improvements in energy efficiency don’t always come at major cost. Decent curtains and basic insulation can be found for under a grand. It’s hard getting landlords on board though, when they must foot the bill but don’t gain the immediate benefit. It shouldn’t be left to landlord lotto to improve the tenants’ lot.While there’s lots of talk about minimum standards for new developments, we also need to fix the existing rental housing.Click To Tweet
While there’s lots of talk about minimum standards for new developments, we also need to fix the existing rental housing. Minimum standards for the basic stuff seems a good place to start: weather sealing, window coverings, basic insulation, and heating systems that are actually fit-for-purpose. A warm tenant is a happier tenant who will love your place that little bit more, and everyone benefits when good tenants stick around.
One day I’ll find a cosy place to call home. For now, I rub the feeling back into my fingers and curl more deeply into the collar of my coat, imagining ways of making housing better for us and for the planet, and wait impatiently for the sun.
Most rental properties are pretty inefficient, which means renters are missing out on the benefits of lower bills and healthier living conditions. That’s unfair – and it’s adding to climate pollution. The solution is minimum standards for rental houses.