Shopping for a rental property in Sydney a dozen years ago, David struggled to get approved. He had a good income, a stable job, an employed partner and impeccable references. But he also had a small dog – something that falls firmly into the ‘non desirable’ column from a landlord’s perspective. He wound up paying an extra $150 per week on top of the suburb’s market rent, to get into a pet-friendly building.
Fast forward more than a decade, and tenants are every bit as much on the back foot today as they were back then.
And they don’t need to be pet owners to find it tough to get approved. These days, tenants feel completely powerless and fearful of being left homeless at the whim of their landlord – and this significant power imbalance is turning rental markets “into a warzone”, according to CHOICE.
Unsettled: Life in Australia’s private rental market, a new national study co-authored by CHOICE, found that thousands of tenants are being discriminated against, with half of those who took part in the research revealing they had experienced this in some way or another.
Just as many admitted they were worried about being blacklisted on a ‘bad tenant’ database and therefore losing their home.
As a result, around one in seven renters revealed that they don’t bother their landlord when something is broken or needs replacing.
“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,” says Ned Cutcher, National Association of Tenants’ Organisations spokesperson.
“This is all the more of a concern when you consider the rising number of long-term renters across Australia.”
Of the 50% of respondents who said they had experienced discrimination when applying for a rental, the most common issues arose over factors such as:
- Age (too young or too old)
- The fact that they received government payments
- Because they had young children
- Because they had pets
- Due to being a single parent.
How can renters get back in control?
Knowledge is power; that’s why it is essential that, as a renter, you educate yourself about the relevant laws and regulations in your area.
Tenants actually have plenty of rights, and your landlord doesn’t always have the upper hand.
For instance, did you know that your rent can only be increased once every six months in Queensland, Victoria, WA and NT, and once every 12 months in Tasmania, SA and the ACT?
Furthermore, you must be given 60 days’ notice in writing in relation to a rental increase, no matter where you reside.
The notice must specify:
- the increased rental amount, and
- the actual date from which the new increased rent applies.
If you do not get 60 days’ notice, and/or the notice is not given in writing, and/or the notice doesn’t specify the date from which the new payment applies, then you do not have to pay the increased rent.
Some tenants have been known to write to their landlord a week before the new rental amount was due to kick in, to point out that the notice is incorrect. At this point the landlord (or their agent) needs to issue a new notice with a fresh notice period, which effectively gives you almost four months notice instead of 60 days. Not that we’re condoning this kind of behaviour.
So here’s our advice, educate yourself as a tenant on your rights. Notifying the property manager or the landlord when repairs are needed and they are less likely to take this from your bond at the end of your lease. Things happen. Properties have wear and tear over time. But if the lease comes to an end and there are thousands of dollars worth of repairs built up over the life of your lease, they may choose to keep your bond for any repairs they feel are at fault of the tenant.
Then again, you may find that in your particular area, it’s going to be more affordable to become a homeowner than to remain a tenant. Check out these 8 suburbs where it’s cheaper to buy than rent.