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Push for minimum standards as renters freeze in winter, melt in summer

As renters welcome the end of a cold winter, many fear poorly equipped homes will soon condemn those same renters to sweltering heat this summer.

A research study of 59 rental homes by Better Renting found 70 per cent of residents suffered from cold homes in recent months.

World Health Organisation guidelines recommend a minimum indoor temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, but most properties surveyed recorded much lower median temperatures.

And with summer just around the corner, South Australian Ben Morse, a Mount Barker resident who participated in the study, fears his home will swing from being too cold all winter to being too hot in summer.

“We’ve had a couple of 40-degree days living here, and almost straight away the house temperature just jumps right up,” he said.

“You can feel the heat pouring in through the windows and walls.”

Morse and his family shivered through a particularly cold winter navigating rising energy costs.

He said he’s “bewildered” by the lack of insulation standards in rental properties.

Originally from Colorado in the United States, he’s no stranger to the cold, but homes in the northern hemisphere are typically better at dealing with extreme temperatures than in Australia.

“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,” Morse said.

“But that first winter I spent in Australia, I felt it was the coldest winter I’d experienced in my life.”

Morse isn’t alone.

Another renter Mina Will, who lives in East Brisbane, said she struggles with temperatures in winter and summer.

“We dress like we’re camping inside,” Will said of the winter months.

“Our heaters have blown up from overuse. Our bills are unaffordable and in the thousands.”

Rentals fail test

Better Renting tracked outdoor and indoor temperatures at rental homes over winter as part of its research study, finding homes were only on average four degrees warmer inside than outside.

The nationwide study found 94 per cent of homes recorded a median temperature below 18 degrees in winter across New South Wales, while 56 per cent of properties were below 16 degrees.

The results were similar in Victoria, where 90 per cent of homes recorded a sub-18 degrees median.

In South Australia 64 per cent of participants recorded a median temperature below 16 degrees, with homes below 18 degrees for more than 20 hours of each day.

Homes were just 3.5 degrees warmer inside than outside.

Tasmania performed particularly poorly, with every home surveyed having a median temperature below 18 degrees and 60 per cent of homes below 16 degrees.

Calls for minimum standards

Joel Dignam, executive director at Better Renting, said a lack of minimum standards for rental properties in Australia is exposing people to the elements in both winter and summer months.

“You’re in a cold property you can’t afford to heat, but you also have nowhere else to turn,” Dignam said, about the challenges facing renters amid low levels of supply and rising bills.

“I have pretty serious concerns about what will happen over summer. It’s going to be very hot.

“It’s so clear to us that there’s hundreds of thousands of rental properties out there that offer negligible protection from the outdoor climate,”  he said.

Better Renting is pushing for the federal, state and territory governments to take urgent action on minimum rental standards.

“We need to see action on minimum energy-efficiency standards for rentals,” Dignam said.

“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.”

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