Electrification and savings for renters: a guide for landlords and tenants
Renters face higher barriers to accessing the benefits of energy efficiency in their homes;
Tenancy regulations are different in each state so best seek advice from local authorities or unions;
Renters can suggest electric upgrades to their real estate agent and make an economic case for the benefit to the landlord.
The 30% of Australian households that rent their home face higher barriers to electrification than owner-occupiers. Because renters pay energy bills while landlords are responsible for the upfront costs of replacing appliances or retrofits, the incentives of reduced bills and improved comfort don’t lead to energy upgrades in rental homes. One study found that worse energy efficiency means that renters pay 8% more in energy bills than owner-occupiers in like-for-like homes.
What are the rules?
Rental regulations are set by each state and territory, so it is important to check your local regulations. For advice on your rights, a good place to start is with your state or territory’s Tenants’ Union (see list below).
In general, landlords are responsible for providing and maintaining fixed appliances (such as heating, hot water, and stoves) while renters are responsible for portable appliances (such as a fridge or TV). Depending on the state, there may be different conditions regarding payment conditions, the split of usage charges, and bill registration for water utilities. Likewise, in some situations, landlords can try to charge renters for electricity as a usage charge (variable) where they hold account. This is only possible if separate metering is in place. As an example, where energy utilities are not separately metered, such as shared premises with other people in a separate dwelling (e.g., granny flat) or in another room, the landlord must pay all charges.
There are no regulations in place in Australia requiring landlords to provide electric over gas appliances. States and territories are considering introducing or expanding minimum energy efficiency standards that must be met by all rental homes, but these currently do not include any bans on gas.
In many locations, there is no formal requirement to provide appliances at all. Victoria requires that a fixed heater must be provided in all rental properties, with a (low) minimum energy efficiency rating of 2 stars. Meanwhile, the weatherproofing and energy efficiency of rental homes is also poorly regulated. Only the ACT requires insulation in all rental homes; as of 2023 Victoria has promised but not enacted similar insulation requirements.
Community advocates are calling for expanded minimum standards for all rental homes, including good energy efficiency and steps to ensure renters are included in the energy transition. Measures that might be introduced in the future include requiring insulation and efficient appliances and requiring all homes to meet an energy efficiency benchmark score using the Residential Efficiency Scorecard or similar.
Seeking improvements from your landlord
As a renter you can request repairs when required. If a gas appliance is broken and needs replacement, it is worth requesting consideration of an efficient, all-electric alternative.
While many property managers or owners are likely to simply replace like-for-like appliances, choosing all-electric appliances is unlikely to significantly increase upfront costs and avoids future costs of replacement, as well as providing benefits to tenants. Templates of letters requesting repairs or improvements are available from Tenants Victoria and Environment Victoria.
As a renter you shouldn’t be required to pay for the upfront cost of new fixed appliances or energy retrofits, since the benefit ultimately accrues to the landlord. It is also unlawful if the landlord seeks recompense for investing in upgraded amenities or appliances. The question of liability regarding gas abolishment or disconnection fees would also need to be negotiated before any major works are planned. Renters can be pro-active in seeking out quotes or costing appliances before contacting their agent or housing provider, which could ensure a different outcome.
Solar Victoria offers a rebate program for solar panels for rented homes. The program includes advice and templates on structuring an agreement between landlords and tenants. Agreements may involve increases to rent payments, noting that these increases should be smaller than the bill savings from solar. If entering into an agreement that includes rental increases it is important to secure details in writing, including any implications at the end of a lease or tenancy.
What other steps can you take?
While there is a strong case that fixed appliances for heating and cooling should be a responsibility of landlords, if you are required to provide your own portable appliances then it is worthwhile to choose an efficient, electric option. Portable reverse cycle air conditioners are available, though they do require an outlet duct and water drain hose out of a window and typically do not perform to the same efficiency level as fixed reverse cycle air conditioners.
Plug-in portable induction cooktops are widely available and relatively cheap. While the overall gas amount used in cooking is smaller than heating and hot water, so the energy bill savings are likely to be low, plug-in induction is an option for ensuring peace of mind with no indoor gas cooking.
Renters can also take reasonable steps to improve the thermal efficiency of their home. Low-barrier steps that typically don’t require formal approval from landlords include sealing gaps and draughts; temporary window film to reduce heat transfer through windows; and installing shading (including plants if practical) to reduce summer heat.
Finally, renters can choose their own energy retailers and should consider Greenpower.
What support is available?
Some rebates and funding are available for energy efficiency and solar for renters. See below for links.
There are also resources available through the Healthy Homes for Renters national campaign.
Australian Capital Territory
Advice and information: Tenants’ Union ACT
New South Wales
Advice and information: Tenants’ Advice Service
Advice and information: Tenants’ Information and Advocacy Service
Advice and information: Tenancy WA
Department of Commerce’s Consumer Protection division.