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Online campaign gives voice to students’ rental ‘horror stories’

Properties are cramped, pest-ridden and lack adequate security, but renters have no choice, as Anna Hush reports.

Source: Flatmates.com.au Source: Flatmates.com.au

Leaky ceilings, persistent mould, poor ventilation and fungus growing in the shower are all too common problems for renters in Sydney, a demographic larger than ever before.

As part of the ‘Standing Up for Renters’ campaign, Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong has taken to social media to gather tenants’ first-hand experiences in preparation for a review of rental legislation this year. Her ‘Rental Horror Stories’ Facebook event has attracted thousands of comments over the past months, with tales of appalling living conditions and nightmare landlords shared via wall post.

Prices are soaring in Sydney’s cutthroat rental market, with the average rent for a room in the Inner West well above $250 a week. Properties are often cramped, pest-ridden and lack adequate security, yet renters are forced to accept these poor conditions. Many fear that reporting problems to their landlord will end in eviction as under the current laws, property managers have the right to evict tenants without giving a reason.

“When a landlord can end a tenancy without needing to say why, it makes tenants very nervous about sticking up for themselves,” Ned Lander, senior policy officer at the Tenants Union of NSW, told Honi.

Ms Leong added that while “most landlords do the right thing, it’s not good enough that dodgy landlords can ignore their responsibilities around things like maintenance, then kick tenants out without giving a reason”.

Studies have found that students are disproportionately affected by rental stress, a term used to describe households having difficulty meeting rental costs.

One of the respondents to Jenny Leong’s event, Max, a sixth year Arts student at the University of Sydney, described the difficulty of finding balance.

“It was always hard to balance availabilities across two jobs, attend class, do my readings, do my assessments and then even think of having a social life,” he said. With the majority of his income going directly to rent, Max had to plan his budget down to the dollar.

For some students, high rent prices may mean living on an unhealthy diet of ramen noodles and instant coffee. For others, however, the expense of Sydney properties can lead to homelessness.

Digby Hughes, a senior policy and research officer for Homelessness NSW, said it was “appalling” that young people are amongst the fastest growing groups of homeless people, along with the elderly and women facing domestic and family violence.

In the year after August 2014, the number of people sleeping rough increased by 20 per cent, yet homelessness services are not growing alongside this figure.

Mr Hughes also noted that Australia lags behind other countries in its affordable housing policy. London, for example, ensures that a set proportion of any development is set aside as social housing, with rent fixed at much lower rates. This prevents class segregation and ensures that families of lower socioeconomic backgrounds have access to the same schools and services as those paying much more rent.

“The Greens would like to see more effective affordable housing targets in all new developments,” said Ms Leong, “rather than the current focus on maximising developer profits.”

It seems that policy reform is desperately needed to mitigate the housing crisis in Sydney. The Greens, backed by the Tenants Union and Homelessness NSW, are campaigning to end no-grounds evictions, seeking to provide a greater sense of stability and security for tenants. The Greens also want to set a maximum of one rent increase per year.

“It should not be this hard. Housing should not cripple you socially or financially or both,” Max wrote on Facebook.

A report on the review will be tabled in Parliament in mid-2016.