Aussie renters are living in fear

AUSTRALIAN renters are living in fear.

Fear of being kicked out, having their rent put up, or being black-listed from getting a lease in the future, according to the country’s first national survey of renters, which has revealed many are too scared to even request basic property maintenance.

“[My] friend has been yelled at over the phone when requesting maintenance for the downstairs area of the last place we were in - it was the raw sewage,” one respondent told the survey, jointly produced by Choice, National Shelter and the National Association of Tenant Organisations.

The study, which interviewed more than 1005 renters nationally, found widespread feelings of insecurity among the country’s rapidly growing rental population, many of whom may find themselves priced out of home ownership indefinitely.

“I would buy my own place right now if I could afford it,” one respondent said. “I would have done it many years ago, if I could have. I am currently studying in an attempt to increase my earning capacity, so that maybe one day, I can have a tiny little place of my own that a stranger won’t insist on snooping through every three months.”

Another explained that she had “to live somewhere”. “Kids have to have a roof over their heads,” she said. “I cannot buy a house or apartment close to work with current prices. We can afford a house in a remote area (struggle street, subject to flooding - yes, it is Queensland) but it would be way too much stress and effort, plus problematic school, drugs, crime etc.” Another told how they “live from week to week and constantly struggle” because they don’t earn enough to save a deposit for a house. “We have previously rented cheaper houses but they aren’t comfortable to live in and we still can’t save much so we have decided to pay a little extra each week for a better house so we can enjoy the house we live in,” he said.

Every second person surveyed for the report said they experienced discrimination when applying for a rental, usually over their age or the fact that they received government payments, or because they had young children, pets or were a single parent.

The number of Australians renting has increased from 25.7 per cent in 1994-95 to 31 per cent in 2013-14, and the vast majority of rental housing is provided by small investors. Social housing makes up less than 4 per cent of the rental market, down from 5 per cent 15 years ago.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of renters have a personal income of less than $35,000 a year, 37 per cent are under the age of 35, and 43 per cent of renters have rented for more than a decade.

The majority (53 per cent) of renters pay between $201 and $400 per week, 30 per cent pay $200 or less, and 16 per cent pay more than $400. Cost was cited as the biggest factor for renting, with more than half saying they rent because they couldn’t afford to buy their own property. One in 10 said they rented to live in their preferred location, 8 per cent because it was cheaper, and seven per cent cited flexibility. “Affordability is extremely important to renters but it can’t be addressed without also looking at the quality and security of housing,” National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski said.

The report blames “generous tax concessions” such as negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts for distorting the housing market, inflating prices and unfairly advantaging investors over owner-occupiers.

Eighty-three per cent of renters have no fixed-term or are on a lease of 12 months or less, and one in five are on a “rolling” month-by-month lease. Just six per cent have a lease than runs for two years.

Half of all renters (51 per cent) have moved homes three times or more, and just under one in 10 have moved homes 11 times or more.

The survey found eight per cent of renters are currently living in properties they regard as needing “urgent repairs”, 30 per cent report requiring non-urgent repairs, and only a quarter report not having experienced any problem with their current property.

The biggest problems cited by renters were pests (27 per cent), door or windows that don’t close properly (24 per cent), peeling paint or loose tiles (22 per cent), leaks or flooding (21 per cent), mould (20 per cent) and lack of fly screens on windows (19 per cent).

Fear of retribution was widespread, with 50 per cent of renters concerned about being “black-listed” and 14 per cent saying they had not made a complaint or requested a repair for fear of adverse consequences.

“People are reluctant to complain to agents or landlords because they’re worried about rent increases or eviction,” a National Association of Tenants Organisations’ spokesman told AAP. “It’s hard to imagine a product or service this poor in any other sector.”

Almost a quarter waited more than a week to hear back about an urgent repair request and 11 per cent copped a rent hike after asking.

The biggest reason was concern the rent would be put up (42 per cent), followed by fear of eviction (23 per cent), fear of a bad reference or black-listing (14 per cent) and fear of not getting the lease renewed (14 per cent).

“I was once told when I signed a lease that the landlord was leaving the house as it is otherwise the rent would be put up,” one respondent said.

Another said they “did not ask to get fridge or dryer replaced as that may result in eviction”, while another said they were “scared of bad reference for next rental application or agent getting spiteful and black-listing me”.

“Constantly worried that if I make a complaint we won’t be offered to rent again, we would not be able to afford to move let alone afford new rent,” one person said. Another said they feared “being kicked out later on down the track, and not working full time I don’t have enough money to get another place or anywhere to go so would be homeless”.

“I was given a notice to leave after landlord had two minor costs for maintenance. Said he would rather have no tenants,” another said.

HOW DO YOU COMPARE TO OTHER RENTERS?

- 83 per cent have no fixed-term lease or it’s less a than 12-months long

- 53 per cent of renters pay between $201 and $400/wk

- Almost half of renters in metro areas pay more than $301/wk

- The median rent price is Sydney and Melbourne is $480/wk

- 21 per cent wait at least a week to hear back about urgent repairs

- 11 per cent had a rent hike after asking for repairs

- 14 per cent are too scared to complain about something or ask for repairs

- Half feel they’re discriminated against in rental applications

(Source: Unsettled: Life in Australia’s Private Rental Market)

news.com.au/ February 16, 2017

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