It’s been getting on my nerves for a while now that in so far as Australian government agencies and environmental groups give tips for improving your footprint, there’s bugger all on offer to renters.

This list from the Australian Conservation Foundation is a great example of this, here’re the tips for water:

* change your hot water system to a more efficient model

* install a rainwater tank

* fix dripping taps and leaking toilets

* install a AAA rated shower head

* replace a single flush toilet with a duel flush toilet or reduce the amount of water flushed

* turn the tap off when you brush your teeth

Now, in Australia tenants aren’t allowed to install so much as a picture hook in most houses, so you can eliminate most of these tips straight up. We’re left with ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’ and ‘use a cup of water for brushing your teeth rather than turning the tap on all the time’ and ‘nag your landlord to send a plumber to fix stuff, which if it isn’t urgent could take months’. While those things are good and fine, they aren’t enough to put a significant dent in the water consumption of the city.

Melbourne doesn’t have enough fresh water to go on the way we’ve been living. Today farmers will be blockading the State Parliament to protest the pipeline that is designed to move water from rural areas to the city. Building a massive pipeline from dams that don’t have much water in them anyway, to a city that uses water very inefficiently is stupid.

But home-owners and landlords aren’t obliged to upgrade their efficiency. Residents aren’t limited in the amount of water they use, just in the way we use it (you can’t wash your car, or water the garden outside particular times or use particular kinds of watering systems for example). Which is mad.

There are a couple of things you (as a tenant) are entitled to ask your landlord for. Except there’s a rental crisis in Melbourne, so no one is asking their landlord for anything for fear of homelessness. Replacing water wasteful appliances is one of the things you could ask for, but I can’t find any definition of wasteful. I don’t know if it’s just outdated (but working as it was originally intended) or if it has to be broken, leaking all over the living room or drowning the neighbour’s cat. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a bit of regulation that ever got much attention.  It’s this sort of thing that is a big problem. We get a lot of talk about how everyone should/could improve their own house, and very little obliging people to do the right thing, or protecting tenants who would like to do the right thing.

Some of the rebates have options for tenants, you can install insulation in the roof and get a rebate for doing the right thing by your heating bill for example, but there’s very little incentive for tenants. “But it’s your heating bill?” Yes, it’s my heating bill for the next few months. In six or twelve months time my heating bill may be somewhere else. I only have a 12 month lease. I’ve offered my landlord longer leases, but he wasn’t interested. I don’t know anyone in Australia who leases and expects to live in the same place for more than a couple of years. So tell me, what incentive do I have to install insulation, or a water tank, or contribute to the new water heater? None.

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