No, renters, you are not imagining those grey hairs springing up on your head – your living situation is actually making you older, faster.
A landmark study out of the University of Adelaide and University of Essex has found that living in a private rental property accelerates the biological ageing process by more than two weeks every year.
The research found renting had worse effects on biological age than being unemployed (adding 1.4 weeks per year), obesity (adding 1 week per year), or being a former smoker (adding about 1.1 weeks).
University of Adelaide Professor of Housing Research Emma Baker said private renting added “about two-and-a-half weeks of ageing” per year to a person’s biological clock, compared to those who own their homes.
“In fact, private rental is the really interesting thing here, because social renters, for some reason, don’t seem to have that effect,” Professor Baker told the ABC News Daily podcast.
She said the security of social renting – aka public housing – and homeownership has compared to people living with an end-of-lease date on their calendars.
“When you look at big studies of the Australian population, you see that the average rental lease is between six and 12 months,” she said.
“So even if you have your lease extended, you still are living in that slight state of kind of unknowingness, really not quite secure if your lease is actually going to be extended or not.”
“We think that that is one of the things that’s contributing to loss of years, effectively.”
Although the study sampled and measured the blood of 1420 Britons, Professor Baker said the Australian market was remarkably similar, if not “slightly stronger in the Australian context” because of the size of the private rental market compared to social housing.
“We have a much smaller social housing sector [than the UK]. So there are people living in the private rental sector in Australia that would normally be under the protection of the social rental sector in the United Kingdom,” she said.
The news comes as more and more Australians struggle to put a roof over their head, as the housing and rental market is stretched to its limits.
Rents are soaring, vacancies are at record-lows, and more often than not people are having to opt for living in share houses to meet their budgets.
And yet, as bad as it seems, much like the effects of smoking and other unhealthy habits can be reversed, Professor Baker says renters suffering the effects of the brutal rental market can recover some of their health, too.
“If we were to change the security of tenure of the private rental sector for example people are able to bounce back in terms of their health and their biological age,” she said.
Some action in the policy space is already happening, with South Australia passing its biggest rental reforms since 1995 that protect tenants from “no cause” evictions.
Meanwhile, a policy proposed by the NSW government may mean renters across the state could own a pet at a leased property, pending landlord’s approval within 21-days – or rejection, with good reason.
“And we know that [having a pet] contributes to people’s good health, especially their mental health,” Professor Baker said.
She also said researchers have been looking at changing tenure lengths “to give people more options to have longer lease lengths”, which is “well-advanced in Victoria” – which already announced its plans to tax short-term rentals like those hosted on Airbnb, which are chewing up the rental market.
Professor Baker said she hoped this research spurred governments to make urgent rental policy reform and increase renters’ security.
“Start with something relatively simple, like giving people the option to have longer leases,” she said, because “it’s actually beneficial for landlords as well as tenants.”
“As a piece of low-hanging fruit, we need to look at how secure rental is for people. How are they able to plan for their future?” she continued.
“We probably need to think about how can we make rental a tenure that people actually want to live in for their whole lives. Because my kids are probably going to spend longer in rental than we did. And many [Aussies] will stay in the rental sector for their whole lives.
“So the challenge is how do you make rental somewhere that is a great place to land.”