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‘Take what I can get’: Landlord on rent crisis

Rental Market
A final report into Australia’s housing crisis will be handed down on November 28th. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Luis Ascui.

A landlord in Victoria has said he views those living in his properties as “customers” and does not rent out to people on Jobseeker, as an inquiry hears growing calls to increase rent assistance.

Long-time property owner Roman told a housing probe on Wednesday that while he had sympathy for those struggling to pay rent they posed too much “risk” to his income.

“From my perspective, I see tenants like customers - people receiving Jobseeker or aged pensions are not my target market,” he told the inquiry.

“I try not to have an opinion, and I take what I can get.”

Roman, a Victorian landlord who owns six properties, told the inquiry he saw rental applicants on JobSeeker as a “risk” to his income and therefore could not rent to them. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Josie Hayden
The homeowner said if he didn’t raise rent on his properties “others will”. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Kelly Barnes

Rare evidence from a landlord followed weeks of testimonies from struggling renters across the country reporting large rent increases and a spike in last-minute evictions.

Roman, who migrated to the country as a teenager and borrowed heavily in his 20s to successfully purchase six properties, said the Australian dream of owning a home “was over.”

“There are two ways to fix it, one is to have more public housing and the other is to substantially increase rental assistance.”

The landlord of 18 years said he hadn’t bought a single property in recent years, and currently sets rent by checking prices on comparable homes while taking 20 percent off “if it’s a good tenant.”

Landlords feel like they are “under attack,” a housing probe heard. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui

Roughly 2 million Australians own a share of a rental property, according to the Australian Landlords Association, with more than 80 per cent of the rental market owned by individuals, or “mum and dad investors.”

According to Roman, more individual landlords have had their tax concessions curtailed, making them feel as if they are being persecuted in a cost-of-living crisis.

He said he had no problem raising rents due to low vacancy rates and did not consider the income he receives from his multiple properties a ‘huge profit’.

“The conversation we have not had is how much extra they [renters] want to pay for their rights - because rights cost money,” he told the public hearing.

“From my part, if the market price is huge, I will still be happily charging the market price.

“I do have a plan to sell, and whether I execute that plan is dependent on the conditions of the time, and the price.”

The Melbourne hearing heard from advocacy organisations who spoke on behalf of tenants. Picture:NCA NewsWire/Josie Hayden

Earlier, the inquiry heard details of a 71-year-old woman living with a broken shower being evicted from her home of 11 years after asking for repairs, and an 85-year-old woman being forced into a nursing home due to an unaffordable rent increase.

Housing for The Aged Action Group flagged serious concerns for older renters‘ health and safety amid a predicted spike in hotter-than-usual temperatures over the summer.

The organisation’s executive officer Fiona Yorke said more and more older people will pass away due to a lack of air conditioning in rental homes and rising instances of people sleeping in their cars

“We will be seeing a lot of older people in their 80s and 90s dying from heatwaves due to poor quality housing,” Ms York said.

“You shouldn’t be getting evicted at the age of 75 and (left) with the prospect of having to sleep in your car.

Longer leases, minimum accessibility standards and removing no-fault evictions are urgently needed to reduce the significant number of vulnerable renters calling for help, the inquiry heard.

Rental prices have risen nationally by 10.2 per cent in the last year, while vacancy rates for rentals are at about 1.3 per cent. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Luis Ascui

According to tenancy advocacy organisation Tenants Victoria, rents in Victoria have increased from $30 a week to more than $500 a week since July 2022.

The organisation’s director of community engagement Farah Farouque reported one renter experiencing a 40 per cent rent increase despite the home “sinking” with “freezing cold” conditions and “black mould running through the bathroom and kitchens.”

“How did the rental market come to this?” she asked the committee.

‘No detail’

Advocacy groups welcomed the federal government’s passing of its first major housing fund since the rental crisis began and said it would help to relieve some pain points.

The government says about 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes will built over the next five years, under the $10bn Housing Australia Future Fund.

State and territory governments agreed to rental reforms at a national cabinet meeting last month, including limiting rent increases to once a year and creating minimum rental standards.

Melbourne Residents On Stay At Home Orders As Victoria Imposes Further Postcode Lockdowns As COVID-19 Cases Rise
More than ten thousand people have joined public housing waitlists in Victoria since 2018. Picture: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images.

Victorian Public Tenants Association chief Katelyn Butters said timelines were critical due to the hundreds of thousands of people “desperately” waiting for access to social housing.

“Part of our concern with the (Victorian government’s) housing statement is there is not a lot of detail from this aspect,” she told the inquiry.

“The standard of these public high-rise apartment buildings right now is not what it should be - It’s not genuine shelter from the perspective that it’s not warm in winter, it’s not cool in summer, it’s not safe for people’s health and safety.”

Rental Market
Amid wider cost of living pressures, rental inflation has been a growing concern for nearly two million renters in Victoria. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Luis Ascui

‘No privacy’

The inquiry also heard serious concerns about rental agents and landlords forcing renters to use digital platforms that collect excessive amounts of personal data.

Digital Rights Watch program lead Samantha Floreani said under current laws real estate agents face little to no consequences if people’s private information is leaked online.

“The real estate industry is extremely data invasive,” she said. “It accumulates large amounts of personal information with the majority of this occurring with no or little regulation.”

According to the Real Estate Institute of Australia about two-thirds of real estate agents do not have to comply with the Privacy Act due a small business exemption.

This means about 48,000 real estate business across the country are not required to protect the “immense” amount of personal information submitted into housing applications - and are not required to disclose how they use it.

This puts people’s sensitive information like addresses, job history and health data, at serious risk of being sold or stolen by cybercriminals, Ms Floreani said.

“If they are going to collect and use that information, it is absolutely vital that they should be required to protect - and if they fail to do so there should be repercussions,” she said.