Alarming statistics revealed in new report Unsettled: Life in Australia's private rental market

Holly Kennedy would rather be focusing on her studies to become a primary teacher, but instead she's worrying about where to sleep. Picture: Robert Peet

Holly Kennedy would rather be focusing on her studies to become a primary teacher, but instead she's worrying about where to sleep. Picture: Robert Peet

UPDATE: As a result of this story being published by the Illawarra Mercury, several landlords reached out to help Holly and her friends on Saturday. The young women are now moving into a house on Sunday.

Holly Kennedy, 19, is at her “wit’s end”, living out of her small blue hatchback due to a common struggle faced by many University of Wollongong students.

Miss Kennedy has been searching for a new home since December as her lease at campus accommodation was expiring at the turn of the year.

“Honestly we just want someone to give us a go and let us prove them wrong.”

After trying to find something by herself, she posted a call out on Facebook and found two other single girls in the same boat.

The three students applied for nearly 50 properties in the last two months but Miss Kennedy says no-one will give them a chance because of the stigma surrounding young university students – they’re poor and like to party.

“Honestly we just want someone to give us a go and let us prove them wrong,” she said.

“We have agreed to sign a no-party policy and also offered more [money] and even that’s not doing any justice for us.”

Read more: The plan that could allow you to buy a house without a deposit

Miss Kennedy said they’ve looked around Wollongong as landlords are more inclined to lease to students though “they charge an arm and a leg”.

Bue when looking at cheaper areas south of Wollongong they come up against families whom the education student says will always get preferential treatment.

“It makes us very anxious and very scared,” she said.

She says she’s not sure what to do with university classes starting in just over a week.

Study reveals widespread anxiety, insecurity and discrimination in rental market

The first ever national survey of renters' experiences has uncovered widespread anxiety, insecurity and discrimination in the rental market.

While tenancy laws have failed to keep pace to protect renters, according to the new report Unsettled: Life in Australia's private rental market.

Nearly a third of Australians rented in 2013-14, nearly 50 per cent of renters have an income of less than $35,000 a year, half of all tenants said they were concerned about being “blacklisted” if they lodge a complaint, while an equal percentage said they've been discriminated against.

''[It’s] leading to a culture of fear that means many renters stay silent when something goes wrong.''

Cause for complaint is not hard to come by. Twenty percent of tenants said they had experienced leaking, flooding and issues with mould, and eight percent live in a property in need of urgent repairs.

And renting is no longer the domain of the young – 63 per cent of renters are aged 35 or above.

"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,” said 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." 

Alan Kirkland, chief executive of consumer group Choice, added it was unfortunate the research revealed a “significant power imbalance” between tenants and landlords.

“[It’s] leading to a culture of fear that means many renters stay silent when something goes wrong," Mr Kirkland said.

The report also found Australia lags behind other developed countries in that we offered leases as short as six months, and when the contract ends and renters revert to a month-to-month arrangement they can be evicted at any time on fairly short notice.

Such "no grounds" evictions are not allowed in countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Ireland.

It comes as rental vacancies around Wollongong rose 0.6 per cent from December to January to 2.1 per cent overall.

Other Illawarra areas are still tight with vacancies at 0.8 per cent and students are feeling the pain with just over a week until university goes back.

The Illawarra Mercury spoke to several local, interstate and international students who have been looking for rental accommodation – mostly with others – for weeks without any luck.

The common complaint was they felt discriminated against for being students and there was little or no feedback from real estate agents as to why they were being knocked back.

Honestly, we just want someone to give us a go and let us prove them wrong.- Holly Kennedy

Paloma Tilly, 21, is "has had to move back with her parents in Mudgee because after her previous tenancy ended she could not find anywhere.

Like others the Mercury spoke to, she has joined forces with another student to find a home, sending off around 40 applications in the month of January alone and constantly travelling back and forth to view properties.

If she can’t find anything in the next few weeks Miss Tilly said she may need to rethink her study this semester.

Yogesh Shanmogam, 23, may have a rental now but said she was staying at mates houses for two months until someone finally gave her and a friend a chance.

Miss Shanmogam had previously rented through campus accommodation but felt it more difficult to find an independent rental because she is an international student.

Her biggest piece of advice was for students to get a job, as she found in her situation that opened many more doors.

KEY FACTS:

  • 37 % of tenants are under the age of 35, while 40 % of those pay more than $300 a week on rent
  • 48 % of renters earn less than $35,000 a year, while 13 % of those live in a property needing urgent repairs
  • 83 % of Australian renters have no fixed-term lease or are on a lease 12 months long or less
  • 55 % of renters said they are concerned they’ll have to offer more cash to secure a property
  • 14 % of house hunters were promised things during application that never materialised
  • 14 % of tenants haven’t made a complaint or requested a repair out of fear of adverse consequences
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