Through the winter of 2023, Better Renting worked with 59 renters to track temperatures in their homes and what it meant for them. We found unhealthy low temperatures in a large number of homes in the sample. Renters' experiences were characterised by a sense of powerlessness, forcing them to put up with substandard homes and negligent landlords, due to a fear of eviction, a rent increase, and potential homelessness.
You can download the report here in PDF format.
An earlier snapshot report specifically about South Australia is available here.
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Study finds 70% of rental homes have unhealthy winter temperatures indoors
Over 70% of renters had an average indoor temperature last winter below the WHO recommended minimum of 18 degrees, according to research published today by tenant advocacy organisation Better Renting.
- Better Renting tracked temperature and humidity in 59 rental homes over winter.
- 85% of participants had a median temperature below 18°C, meaning they spent 50% of the time below that temperature. Weighted by population, this is equivalent to 72% of renters across Australia. 46% of renters recorded a median temperature below 16°C.
- Properties were colder inside than out over 3 hours a day. In NSW, properties were only 2.8°C warmer inside than out, the worst result.
A tight rental market and high energy costs left renters unable to achieve healthy temperatures in their homes this winter, according to a new report from tenant advocacy organisation Better Renting.
Better Renting worked with 59 ‘Renter Researchers’ across Australia to track temperature and humidity from June to August. A high proportion of rental homes had average temperatures below a healthy minimum of 18°C, which has been recommended by the WHO as a safe indoor temperature in winter.
Better Renting also tracked outdoor temperatures to compare with indoor conditions. This showed that rental homes were only 4°C warmer inside than out, on average. The greatest difference was in the ACT, where homes were over 7 degrees warmer. In NSW, homes were only 2.8°C warmer, and were colder in than out for 20% of the time.
Record-low vacancy rates combined with higher power costs meant that renters had few alternatives and couldn’t move into better homes. Many people cut back on heating altogether to reduce the cost of living, struggling under the burden of high rents. A lack of leverage meant renters struggled to get repairs done, worried about the risk of eviction or a rent increase.
Ben Morse took part in the project, tracking temperatures in a home he rents with his wife and three children in Mount Barker, South Australia. Although Ben grew up in Colorado, USA, he says the sub-zero temperatures there were no match for the winters he has experienced renting in Australia.
“I grew up in Colorado, right at the base of the Rocky Mountains and it’s a lot colder than anywhere in Australia but the difference was we had insulation in the houses and it was cosy. Winter was my favourite season because it was sunny outside and nice and cosy indoors. But that first winter I spent in Australia, I felt it was the coldest winter I’d experienced in my life.”
“It’s hard to relax in your home when it’s so cold, I find myself pacing around the home because I don’t want to sit on the cold couch. Winter has this extra mental load, even if you’re not actively thinking about it it’s always there, thinking about being cold and how to get warm.”
“As a family we’ve tried to live fairly simply, and be aware of our expenditure. We had to start pulling money out of our savings to top up our regular spending and needs. Energy costs were a big part of that, you could really see a big jump in those costs and that on top of food costs going crazy. We’ve made the choice to reduce our heater use to balance out those costs.”
Key state-by-state findings include:
- 94% of Researchers recorded a median temperature below 18°C, 56% below 16°C.
- NSW rentals averaged only 2.8°C warmer than the outdoors — the worst result we tracked. Homes were colder in than out 20% of the time, about 5 hours a day.
- 64% of Researchers recorded a median temperature below 16°C, the highest rate we observed. Participants were below 18°C 84% of the time, over 20 hours a day.
- Homes were 3.5°C warmer inside than out, and were colder than the outdoors 12.5% of the time, or 3 hours a day.
- Renters in Tasmania had some of the worst conditions. 100% of Researchers had a median temperature below 18°C, and 60% below 16°C. Homes were below 18°C over 22 hours a day. The average median temperature was just 14°C
- The ACT’s cold climate saw 100% of Researchers record a median temperature below 18°C, with homes below 18°C 84% of the time, or over 20 hours a day.
- The ACT had the coldest indoor temperature of anywhere in the country, at 4.5°C.
- In Victoria 90% of researchers recorded a median temperature below 18°C. The average minimum temperature was 10.8°C.
Quotes attributable to Bernie Barrett, Deputy Director, Better Renting:
“Everyone deserves a home that keeps them safe and warm in winter and protects them and their families. But renters in Australia are missing out on this. Renters are being trapped in a powerless position where they can’t speak up for themselves and ask for even the bare minimum because they are beholden to the whims of landlords and real estate who hold all the power to potentially make them homeless.”
“Rental homes in Australia are failing to meet minimum healthy temperatures, even during a warmer winter. Homes in some states, such as New South Wales and South Australia, are so substandard that it is routinely colder indoors than it is outdoors. This is taking a massive toll on renters' physical and mental health, but also their hip pockets as they are stuck paying high energy bills to try and warm their cold and draughty homes.”
Quotes attributable to Joel Dignam, Executive Director, Better Renting:
“This winter renters didn’t have enough power to warm their homes — in more ways than one. In draughty, uninsulated homes, you struggle to reach a decent temperature, even if you are running a heater. But the gaps and cracks in rental homes ultimately reflect the gaps and cracks in our rental laws — renters don’t have the power to exercise their rights, or to demand a decent standard of living.”
“We need to see action on minimum energy efficiency standards for rentals. This needs to be complemented by action on unfair evictions and rent increases, so renters don’t have to worry about retaliation every time they speak up for themselves. At the same time, governments should be aiming for an abundance of rental housing. If rental vacancy rates were above 5%, we’re confident we’d have a very different rental market, where people paying money to rent a home could be much more assured that it would be fit to live in.”