Living in a rental home without cooling: Madeline’s story

A woman sits on a couch in a living room, looking straight at the camera

No-one should have to live in a dangerously hot home, but this is the reality for Madeline Cooper, a renter living in Melbourne’s inner city. She lives with long Covid, which is challenging enough, but for Madeline, the extreme summer heat makes her symptoms worse. Her rental home is not designed to cope with scorching summer temperatures, leaving her struggling to find relief from the heat. 

I’ve lived in my rental in Richmond, Melbourne for just over two years now. I’ve been a renter for almost 20 years, and likely will be for the next 20. My house is a very traditional weatherboard cottage. Some features are great – high ceilings, generous sized rooms, a garden out the back. Other features, not so great. The house has absolutely zero insulation in any of the walls or ceiling, the roof sometimes leaks, there are big gaps under the front and back doors, and all the single-glazed windows are poorly fitting and draughty. 

There is a split system unit in the living room, but it’s so old it doesn’t even have an energy rating, and so loud I can’t hear the tv. When it’s on my power usage instantly doubles – and it doesn’t even cool the room down that much, so I don’t use it very often. 

There are only fly screens on a couple of the windows, and none in the bedrooms or living room. I’ve bought flimsy temporary ones from Bunnings, but they only allow me to open the windows a little bit, not the whole way. 

For the last 12 months I’ve been participating in the fantastic Renter Researchers project, coordinated by the organisation Better Renting. Myself and close to 100 other renters across the country have been collecting data on the temperatures in our bedrooms. I knew my house was really poor quality when it came to temperature, but to see the raw numbers was truly shocking.

This past winter, the average temp was only 11.8°, dropping down to a very chilly 7.8° at one point. The extremes in summer are even worse – it got up to 31.3° this summer, at 7:45pm (and the temperature that night only dropped below 30 just before midnight). Last summer, the average temp was 24.8 for the whole month, with a max of 30.9. The house heats up quickly, and then takes forever to cool down – I can literally feel the heat radiating up from the floor when I walk down the hallway to go to bed. 

These temperatures have a massive impact on me – physically and mentally. It’s so hard to sleep when it’s hot. When there’s a heat wave I often resort to ‘camping out’ on the couch in my living room where I can at least cool down the room a little with the old and rickety aircon unit. Otherwise I’ll do everything I can to try and keep cool in my bedroom – have two fans blowing directly on me, sleep under a damp sheet, freeze washcloths to put on my neck… the “hacks” go on and on. My whole day revolves around trying to work out how to escape the heat. 

I’ve been suffering from long covid since June 2022. One of the common symptoms of long covid is difficulty regulating your body temperature, and heat seriously exacerbates my symptoms of fatigue and breathlessness. I have no doubt that if I rented a house that had better insulation I would be feeling better physically.

The advice to “go somewhere cool” to escape heat waves is impractical for many people, but especially for those with long covid. Extreme fatigue means that I can’t just spend the day in a library or shopping centre, it’s just too tiring, especially in the afternoons. And lying down is best for me to alleviate my breathlessness and heart rate issues. 

I’ve requested aircon and/or insulation in my bedroom, but the agent is dragging their feet. The current split system unit in the living room doesn’t meet Victoria’s minimum rental standards for heating (it doesn’t even have an energy star rating, and the minimum required is two star) but they’re dragging their feet on fixing that, too. 

If you want to get involved in the campaign, sign our petition or register as a volunteer.

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