Consumer advocate group Choice has likened Australia's rental market to a 'war zone', and says Australia's rental rights lag behind those of other developed nations.
The Choice report, 'Unsettled: Life in Austraia's private rental market', says renters fear being added to a 'bad tenant' database. The database, which is intended to screen out tenants whose rent is overdue by an amount greater than the bond or who have violated the terms of their lease, is being used as well to discriminate against tenants who have made valid complaints or tried to exercise their rights in other ways.
The report is based on a study by Choice, the National Association of Tenants' Organisations, and National Shelter.
The report finds 83 per cent of renters in Australia have no fixed-term lease or are on a lease of less than 12 months. Once leases expire, tenants are often on a month-by-month arrangement during which they can be evicted at any time on relatively short notice.
In the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Ireland, tenants are not allowed to be evicted with 'no grounds'.
Twenty percent of renters said they had experienced leaking, flooding, and mould at their rented properties. And 21% of renters who took part in the survey said they had waited over a week to get a response about an urgent request for repair.
"It's hard to imagine a product or service this poor in any other sector," said CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.
"Consumers have to deal with major quality issues like mould or flooding and are systematically denied access to a timely remedy," he said.
"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.
The survey authors are calling on governments not just to focus on housing affordability, but to prioritise rental security and the quality of rental accommodation.
"Tenants are often the last group to be asked about the housing challenges Australia faces," said Adrian Pisarski, National Shelter's executive officer.
"As more Australians enter the rental market, we need a national plan to boost supply, especially for low-income households, whilst also addressing security, rights and amenity," he said.
The report was released as data from the Reserve Bank showed renters across all age and income groups moved house more often than home owners. Renters move up to twice as much in the case of 15 to 24-year olds.
At yesterday's Australasian Housing Researchers Conference in Melbourne, Luci Ellis, the Reserve Bank's assistant governor for economics, said the data indicates the private rental market isn't providing tenants with reliable long-term housing.
"Many renters are happy with their current home, but are required to move because the lease expired or the landlord sold the property," she said.
"If we are concerned about inequality of housing outcomes, perhaps we should focus less on the type of tenure, and more on security of tenure."
Find out more: read Choice's report 'Unsettled: Life in Australia's private rental market'.
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