As many previous Energy Cultures bloggers have noted, Dunedin suffers from some very energy inefficient housing which in turn causes financial and health related problems for occupants. I’m here in Dunedin for a month to do a study looking at why private landlords in the city tend not to invest in making their properties more efficient, warm and comfortable for their tenants. I hope to be able to write more about my findings in a later blog. For now, I would like to tell you about some of the difficulties we experience with inefficient rental properties many, many miles away in my home country of England where for many, cold, damp conditions and unscrupulous landlords are not just the stuff of Victorian fiction.
The private rented sector (PRS) in England contains some of the poorest quality and least energy efficient properties in the country. Occupants of such properties can endure dangerously cold homes and fuel poverty but have no direct influence over the energy performance of the properties they live in. The choices that occupants make regarding energy consumption and the amount of money they spend on heating are partially determined by the material characteristics of a property (such as its level of insulation and type of heating): something only the landlord can alter.
The consequences of these conditions for residents are well documented and there is a strong body of evidence painting a clear picture of tenants enduring dangerously cold homes that are unaffordable to heat. Indeed, the PRS has the highest incidence of ‘excess cold’ of all English housing tenures with 15 per cent of all PRS properties classified as a Category One ‘excess cold hazard’ under England’s Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) meaning that they are so cold that they pose a threat to health.
Compounding these issues, the sector houses more vulnerable individuals than any other housing sector. Previous research has established that vulnerable individuals are, despite being the most adversely affected by poor living conditions, amongst the least empowered consumers and therefore unlikely to lobby landlords for improvements. The position of dissatisfied tenants is weakened further by high demand and low supply (meaning landlords can take their pick of tenants) and unsupportive case law which has established that any person taking on a lease for a property takes it as it stands when they sign the lease. In 2007, there were 3.1 million vulnerable households living in private housing, of which 61per cent occupied ‘non-decent’ accommodation, as defined by the UK government. Of this 61 per cent, 48 per cent were private rented sector tenants.
Worryingly, an increasingly large proportion of the population are enduring these conditions, as the PRS in England is growing rapidly, having doubled in size since 2001 and now housing 4 million households.
The absence of minimum energy efficiency standards within the PRS, mean that options for tackling the problem of widespread energy inefficiency are limit