Renters deserve a better deal – The Age

It has never been easy to gain a foothold in the property market in Australia, but as median house prices soar beyond $1 million in many Melbourne suburbs, more of us have switched from planning for a mortgage to resigning ourselves to life on a lease.

As many Australians rent as own their homes outright, according to the latest census figures: 30.9 per cent rent, 31 per cent own a house outright and 34.5 per cent have a mortgage.

As many Australians rent as own their homes outright. As many Australians rent as own their homes outright. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

This does not have to be a disaster. Lifelong renters in other countries enjoy much greater security than Australian tenants, with rent controls, multi-year lease options and the freedom to transform their residences into their homes – to hang pictures on the wall, to own a pet, to grow and enjoy a garden over many years.

But in Victoria, tenants enjoy far fewer rights than landlords, who will often benefit from both the terms of the lease and the tax concessions available through negative gearing. Many renters will know the stress of scrambling to find a new home when the landlord gives them as little as one month’s notice to vacate, or the price hikes year-on-year.

Many know the desperation of trying to impress future landlords and agents with their payment history, their jobs, their glowing references.

So we welcome the state government’s plan to name and shame the state’s worst landlords on a blacklist that could be available to the public as early as next year. Landlords should be penalised for deception, such as failing to tell prospective tenants about flaws that render homes unsafe – black mould, shaky foundations, exposed asbestos.

The Age has long reported on many landlords of poor character and with criminal records who have preyed upon those seeking shelter in rooming houses; renters deserve easily searchable access to records of prosecutions by those who flout their current responsibilities under the law.

We also welcome a  proposed ban on rental bidding, a widespread practice that makes the difficult task of securing accommodation even more unfair.

A Consumer Affairs Victoria report on renters last year found that one-in-five prospective tenant had offered higher rent in order to secure a lease, sometimes bidding as much as $100 above the weekly asking price.

Peer-to-peer rental apps such as Rentwolf, Rentberry and Live Offer promise to cut out the middleman fees, but they can function like eBay, as people bid against each other for homes.

It will be interesting to see how the state government plans to police the practice, but encouraging that they are determined to shut it down.

With rents at record highs in Melbourne, there is no real incentive for agents or landlords to embrace the 10-year leases the state government will make available. Perhaps there could be tax incentives to encourage the practice, just as there is for buying a rental property in the first place.