‘Spies’ expose sub-standard rental properties

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Undercover renters who inspected rental homes in Victoria have found that a disturbing number still fell short of the state’s minimum standards required for such properties – especially at the affordable end of the rental market.

According to a media release published by Tenants Victoria, it teamed up with the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) to conduct a ‘mystery shop’ of 100 rental properties in Wyndham Vale, in Melbourne’s outer west, and Bendigo in central Victoria.

The mystery shoppers went to open inspections in the guise of potential renters to test how people actually renting experienced viewings and to assess the rentals based on Victoria’s minimum standards and other obligations under the state’s rental laws.

They found that, while a majority of rental homes did appear to meet the mandatory minimum standards, a significant proportion did not, particularly at the more affordable end of the rental market.

Victoria’s minimum standards include absence of mould or damp caused by the building structure, an energy efficient heater in the main living area and compliant electrical switchboards, circuit breakers and safety switches.

Are rental homes actually liveable?

The report, titled ‘Is it liveable? A mystery shop of private rental properties’, revealed that out of 100 properties:

  • 9 had visible mould
  • 15 failed to meet the standards for heating
  • 24 agents involved in these inspections could not provide information about electricity and gas compliance and safety checks
  • 28 had maintenance issues, with these more common in lower-cost properties

CEO of Tenants Victoria Jennifer Beveridge said: ‘Victoria is considered to have some of the better rental laws in the nation but our unique experiment with undercover renters shows that too many rental home fail even very basic standards and lag on maintenance. This is cause for concern and shows that work must be done to improve conditions for the third of the population who rent their homes.’

Erin Turner, CEO of the CPRC, warned: ‘There’s a risk that in a tight rental market some people may feel they have no choice but to accept unsafe or unsuitable properties.

‘There’s a clear need for enforcement to ensure compliance with the law across all affordable rentals. People who rent deserve safe homes, regardless of their budget.’

The quality of information provided by agents to the undercover renters also stood out in the report’s findings.

As part of the mystery shop experiment, agents were probed if the properties met the minimum standards for gas and electrical safety compliance, about heater energy efficiency and any mould history of the property. Only half of the agents were able to answer these questions. Moreover, 13 agents could not provide information for any of these essential questions.

‘Agents should play a vital role in providing essential safety information about gas and electrical safety, heating, mould history, and if the property meets the minimum standards,’ said the CPRC’s Erin Turner.

On the plus side, most rental properties viewed during the period February to April 2023 met the prescribed minimum standards. This indicates that large parts of the market are meeting Victoria’s mandatory rental requirements. It also indicates that other states could experience similar levels of compliance if they followed Victoria’s lead.

‘In Victoria, the sky did not fall in for landlords when greater protection and regulation for renters was introduced,’ said Tenants Victoria’s Jennifer Beveridge. ‘Renting is an essential service and must be treated as such.’

Properties that met the standards had the basics for people to live comfortably: a working kitchen, a home free from visible mould and security measures, such as window covers and locks on doors.

Compliance was weaker for standards for mould, window coverings, and heating; with more issues encountered in older homes.

Victoria’s minimum standards

  • Compliant electrical switchboards, circuit breakers and safety switches
  • Energy efficient heater installed in the main living are
  • Deadlocks on external doors
  • Vermin-proof rubbish bin
  • A toilet in good working order
  • A bathroom with washbasin, water efficient shower/bath connected to hot and cold water
  • Kitchen with a functioning cooktop, oven, sink connected to hot and cold water and food preparation area
  • Any laundry to be connected to hot and cold water
  • Structurally sound building
  • No mould or damp caused by the building structure
  • Curtains or blinds on external windows
  • External windows that can be opened and are lockable
  • Lighting in all areas
  • Ventilation in all rooms including the bathroom, shower, toilet and laundry

For more practical information on how minimum standards apply to rental homes in Victoria, go to the Tenants Victoria page Minimum Standards.

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    Jimmy-T
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      Undercover renters who inspected rental homes in Victoria have found that a disturbing number still fell short of the state’s minimum standards requir
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