Rent cap: civil engineers demand exemption through renovation

Thermal-energetic refurbishment should enable exemption from rental price caps; Avoidance of tears necessary

Vienna (OTS) In its current form, the benchmark for new rentals of apartments in old buildings, introduced in 1994, torpedoes Austria’s climate goals. With the cap on rents provided for old buildings by the guideline value law, the legislation indirectly creates an incentive for the demolition of old buildings. As the press reported in its February 9, 2023 issue, the chambers of civil engineers are calling for immediate action to counteract this trend.

Investors currently see no reason to renovate a building that was built before 1945 if they cannot later charge the appropriate rent for it. From the point of view of the architects and civil engineers, however, it is essential to avoid the demolition of functional and high-quality old buildings and to invest more in renovation concepts and innovative planning in order to pursue sustainability goals“, says architect and Federal Chamber President Daniel Fügenschuh with concern.

20 years after construction: either renovation or rent cap!

The ZT Chamber is therefore calling for a redesign of the guideline value law. It is not the age of a building that is decisive, but the quality of the environment and the quality of life that it creates. All buildings should fall under the rental price cap after 20 years of their construction at the latest, provided that no thermal-energetic or architecturally valuable renovation of the existing building has been carried out.

This means that the guideline rent should also apply to buildings currently under construction if they have not been renovated architecturally or thermally-energetically after 20 years of construction. According to a study by the University of Applied Arts, even new buildings that were built 20 years ago have twice the energy requirements of old buildings after major renovations according to the current legal situation.[1]

On the one hand, there should be an incentive to renovate buildings that are not classified as old buildings, but sometimes have poorer energy or architectural quality. On the other hand, owners of old buildings should be deprived of the incentive to speculate on a more lucrative new building and to demolish old buildings. It is up to the owners themselves whether they want to prevent the reference rent from being reached by means of a refurbishment or not.

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Bernhard Sommer, architect and regional chamber president for Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland sees an urgent need for action: “The building sector plays an important role in Austria’s CO2 balance, not only because of the useful energy, but also in terms of the energy used. In new buildings, this so-called ‘grey energy’ sometimes has the same climate-damaging effect as the operation of such buildings for 30 years. Building demolitions must therefore be considered in a larger context. A comprehensive, climate-friendly strategy is finally needed in the residential construction sector, but above all one that is coordinated between the federal government, the federal states and the municipality‘ warns Sommer, pointing out obstacles to renovation efforts that can result from zoning and building regulations.

A third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the building sectoragain

Austrian Climate Fund published in its “Focus on the Building Sector”.[2]. The Federal Environment Agency also counts the building sector as one of several greenhouse gas emitters[3] and a 2020 UN report put its share at 38 percent worldwide[4].

On average, 80% of the energy costs are reduced by energetically and architecturally the best possible renovation of a building. By switching to more environmentally friendly heating systems, CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced and the remaining useful life of the property extended“, emphasizes Federal Chamber President Fügenschuh.

Owners can also gain additional living space as a result: “For example, in the course of such measures, new rooms are opened up by expanding attics or by reorganizing floor plans“, says Fugenschuh. This measure also offers spatial planning benefits for cities: If entire residential areas are retrofitted in this way and the existing buildings are carefully planned, a “city within the city” is created, as more space is created and the quality of life in the city is increased. For example, higher subsidies for renovations could be paid out if a targeted improvement of the open space is made. Such a measure is doubly profitable for owners: They receive more grants overall and benefit from an increase in the quality of life within a region or a residential area and around their property. For tenants, this measure will provide relief in times of crisis due to inflation: the rent cap would thus also be extended to buildings built after 1945. If a comprehensive renovation takes place and the building is thereby exempted from the rent cap again, the tenants benefit from the modernization and the significantly lower energy costs. “For old buildings, however, one would have to find ways of social cushioning in order to avoid gentrification if the reference value were to be abolished or raised. Here, the federal states have a high level of competence and experience, for example with their housing support models. A change in the guideline value law therefore requires a simultaneous adjustment of state laws and funding models‘ added Summer.

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According to TU Vienna, in order to be able to achieve Austria’s climate targets by 2050, a renovation rate of around 14.2% is required.[5]. „Austria’s current refurbishment rate of 1.5 percent calls for drastic measures. It is therefore urgently necessary to ensure that the financial incentives for carrying out thermal-energetic renovations are significantly increased and made available in an unbureaucratic manner. The restructuring check proves to be a good lever, but significantly more financial resources must flow into it“, warns the Vice-President of the Chamber of States, Peter Bauer.

Accompanying measure: Untangle the funding jungle

Since this project will only be possible through relevant funding, from the point of view of civil engineers it is essential to untangle the current funding jungle. They demand clear funding guidelines, divided into funding that can be applied for before and after renovation, so that there is more clarity about the possibility of subsidies from public funds. Of course, increasing the funding only makes sense if the funds can be collected without any bureaucracy and other hurdles.

11.51 million tons of construction and demolition waste

According to Statistics Austria, Austria has recorded the highest residential construction activity since the beginning of the 1980s: with the around 24,200 new buildings completed in 2021, an area of ​​around 595 hectares was built over, which corresponds to around 834 football pitches[6].

At least 834 soccer fields were built over in 2021 alone. This means that we have unnecessarily consumed several tons of materials and their subsequent disposal. Targeted renovation and carefully planned densification are the modern tools in the fight for our climate. However, the preservation of buildings must not be limited to a small part of representative monuments, but must include the entire building stock.” emphasizes Vice President Peter Bauer.

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The status report on the inventory of waste management in Austria from 2021 also states that since the Federal Waste Management Plan 2017[7] (Base year 2015) the amount of construction and demolition waste increased by around 15% and amounted to around 11.51 million tons in 2019.[8] This corresponds to 16.1 percent of the total waste generated in 2019[9].

Today, when global warming is noticeable, the energy supply is uncertain and the planetary limits have been reached, and against the background of increasing numbers in the field of waste management, it is not the preservation of building structures that needs explanation, but their demolition. The three representatives of the federal and state chambers agree that the building stock itself will become the most important resource for the climate-friendly city of the future. However, the historically created legal situation does not do justice to this and must be carefully but immediately adapted in a joint effort.

Interview partner:

Architect Dipl.-Ing. Daniel joining shoe | President of the Federal Chamber of Civil Engineers

Univ.-Ass. Architect Dipl.-Ing. Bernard Sommer | President of the State Chamber of Civil Engineers for Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland

Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Peter Bauer | Vice President of the State Chamber of Civil Engineers for Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland

[1] Final report on the research project Development of a structured and error-minimised data processing and documentation for energy certificates:




[5] Abstract: TU study “Thermal energetic renovation and modernization in Austria”,




Questions & contact:

Ing. Christine Lohwasser, Director of the Federal Chamber of Civil Engineers

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