Renters Face Insecurity, Poor Quality Housing, and Discrimination – Report
16 February 2017 at 10:27 am
Consumer group CHOICE, the National Association of Tenants’ Organisations and homeless organisation National Shelter have called on governments to prioritise rental security and quality issues, as well as affordability, as a national study revealed widespread fear and discrimination being faced by housing tenants.
The report called UNSETTLED: Life in Australia’s private rental market found widespread discrimination in the Australian rental market.
The report said a major problem facing renters was insecurity and the prospect of being “blacklisted” by landlords and agents, making it difficult to lease properties in the future.
While only a small number of renters have reported this happening (3 per cent), fear of blacklisting is widespread amongst renters, it found.
“Half of all renters are concerned about being blacklisted. The fear of blacklisting and other adverse consequences have prevented one in seven renters from making a complaint or asking for a repair. This includes over a third of renters who have previously had a dispute with a landlord or agent over bond,” the report said.
“Of all renters, just under a quarter received no response at all to their request for a repair. Meanwhile 21 per cent had to wait over a week to even get a response about an urgent repair and 23 per cent had to wait over a month to get a response for a non-urgent repair,” it said.
The report said renters can also face adverse consequences when they speak up. A total of 11 per cent of renters copped a rent hike after requesting a repair and 10 per cent said that their landlord or agent became angry after they requested a repair.
“Some renters have even faced eviction for making a complaint (2 per cent), requesting a repair (2 per cent) or for taking their complaint to a third party like a tribunal or a tenants’ rights organisation (2 per cent). Renters also had experiences with landlords that would access the property unannounced (6 per cent) and take photos during inspections without permission (5 per cent),” the report said.
Half of all renters reported having experienced some form of discrimination when looking for a rental property in the last five years.
This included discrimination for having a pet (23 per cent), for receiving government payments (17 per cent), on the basis of age (14 per cent ), for having young children (10 per cent) and being a single parent (7 per cent).
Discrimination on the basis of race (6 per cent), for needing to use a bond loan (5 per cent), gender (5 per cent), disability (5 per cent) and sexuality (2 per cent) were also experienced, though were less common.
National Shelter’s executive officer, Adrian Pisarski told Pro Bono News: “We weren’t surprised by the findings [of the report] but we were shocked by the extent of insecurity in the rental market.”
“We were also shocked by the fact that the longer people are renting the more insecure they feel because they are less likely to actually complain or report a problem to their real estate agents and we can only assume that that’s under the basis that they have had bitter experience of making those complaints previously,” Pisarski said.
“One of the main reasons that we have such a poorly performing rental market from the perspective of tenants is that it is all based on small mum-and-dad investors rather than large institutional investment which really wants to be there for different reasons.
“So, we have an irrational investment market and I would have to point out that that’s supported by $11.6 billion worth of tax expenditure every year in the form of negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions.”
He said Treasurer Scott Morrison last week criticised the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) for costing a billion dollars a year and saying it had no growth.
“[This] isn’t accurate. It does have growth in it, mainly in the community housing sector,” Pisarski said.
“He is criticising a billion dollars worth of spending against the performance record of the NAHA but if we compare that to the $11.6 billion worth of tax expenditure for the private rental market for a very poor result I think they are barking up the wrong tree.
“Governments across Australia are rightly focused on the issue of housing affordability. Affordability is extremely important to renters, but it can’t be addressed without also looking at the quality and security of housing.”
Responding to the report’s findings CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland said: “It’s hard to imagine a product or service this poor in any other sector. As consumers of rental properties, tenants have to deal with major quality issues like mould or flooding and are systematically denied access to a timely remedy”.
National Association of Tenants’ Organisations spokesperson Ned Cutcher said: “Worryingly, we found that renters with more experience in the market were less likely to complain when something goes wrong which illustrates the entrenched culture of fear among renters.”
“This is all the more of a concern when you consider the rising number of long-term renters across Australia.”
The Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) said the report was worrying, but that it simply echoed what they had been saying “that Australia’s broken housing system is slowly shutting out the vulnerable and the poor and driving up homelessness”.
“Aspiring homeowners locked out of buying often ‘rent down’ in properties that might otherwise be available for people on low incomes. This creates a domino effect, with those on the lowest of incomes pushed out of private rental into rooming houses and caravan parks, or worse, onto the street,” acting CEO of CHP Kate Colvin said.
“It’s our homelessness agencies that bear the burden of a broken rental market, as 100 renters a day stream through their doors needing help.
“Last year Victorian homelessness services had 35,000 renters come to them for help because they were struggling to keep up with the rent, or unable to find a rental they could afford,” she said.
Key findings from the report include:
- 83 per cent of renters in Australia have no fixed-term lease or are on a lease less than 12 months long
- 62 per cent of people say they feel like they can’t ask for changes
- 50 per cent of renters report experiencing discrimination when applying for a rental property
- 50 per cent of renters worried about being listed on a residential tenancy database
- 20 per cent renters experiencing leaking, flooding and issues with mould
- 8 per cent of renters are living in a property in need of urgent repairs.
Download the research here.