Victorian renters deserve solar equality Climate change / environment

Victorian renters deserve solar equality

ANALYSIS

As dreams of homeownership recede into a hazy fog of unjust Federal housing policy, long-term renting is the only option for a growing number of Victorians, especially young people.

Until recently, if you were among the one in three Victorians forced to compete in an intensely competitive rental market like some new Hunger Games spinoff, there was no guarantee you wouldn’t end up in living in a dump.

The general power imbalance of renting combined with a lack of available housing meant many renters were forced to settle for uncomfortable or even unsafe homes, without things like basic cooking facilities or lockable external doors.

In March 2021, Victoria introduced minimum standards for rental properties.

Mandating minimum standards (really basic things, like doors that lock, toilets that flush and stovetops that actually work) was an overdue acknowledgment by the Victorian Government that renters need to be safe and comfortable in their home.

But there’s one area in which renters still lag conspicuously behind homeowners when it comes to safety, comfort and cost-saving.

Homeowners are twice as likely to have insulation than renters, and three times as likely to have double-glazing windows, according to new data from Energy Consumers Australia.

A graphic with header 'How comfortable are Victorian homes?' and two columns: Homeowners and Renters. Ceiling insulation - Homeowners: 73%, Renters 46%; Wall insulation - Homeowners 53%, Renters 29%; Double-glazed windows - Homeowners 19%, Renters 6%. Sourse: Energy COnsumers Australia's Behavious Survey October 2021.

For renters, that means sweating through summer and shivering through winter. It’s especially rough for people already struggling to pay the high energy bills that come with heating and cooling.

And the inequity is even more glaring when it comes to solar power: homeowners are almost five times more likely than renters to have rooftop panels.

A graphic with text '1 in 3 homeowners in Victoria have solar panels. But for renters in Victoria, it's only 1 in 14.' The text is illustrated with two rows of cartoon houses, the first row with three houses one of which is lit up by the sun, the second with 14 of which one is lit by the sun.

That’s 34 per cent of homeowners producing their own energy and selling what they don’t need, compared to only 7 per cent of renters.

Climate change will keep increasing the risk and unfairness of this situation, with more dangerous summer conditions and more power needed to cool people’s homes.

Should the clean energy revolution only be for the benefit of the already well-off? We think not.

There’s lots that can be done to make every rental property in Victoria comfortable and energy efficient.

Firstly, with the stroke of a pen the Victorian Government could mandate it, just as they did with other items. Investment property owners would be required to install air-conditioning and double-glazed windows before advertising for tenants.

Installing solar panels on rental properties is a harder conversation, but an absolutely necessary one. Renters should have access to the benefits of affordable and sustainable energy, which would also help cut Victoria’s carbon emissions.

Panels are too expensive to become a minimum standard, and property owners have little incentive to install them when they won’t reap the benefits themselves.

Uptake of Solar Victoria’s Solar for Renters scheme has been slow for this reason, despite the introduction of no-interest loans that renters can help pay off with their bill savings.

As part of the solution, the Victorian Government should invest in solar gardens, and subsidise them for renters the same way rooftop panels are subsidised for homeowners. These schemes allow renters to buy solar panels away from their home, and receive a discount on their energy bill.

And renters who take up the scheme can continue benefiting from the panels when they move from home to home, lease to lease.

What it all boils down to is ensuring our response to climate change is equitable.

All Victorians deserve safe and comfortable homes. It will be a dangerous injustice if Victorian renters get left behind on solar power.