A 71-year-old woman living with a broken shower and faulty heating was evicted from her home of 11 years after asking for basic repairs, and an 82-year-old woman was forced into a nursing home when her husband died due to a $638 rent increase.
These were among the horrific calls for help made to a Victorian advocacy group, with the details shared during an inquiry into the state’s housing crisis.
According to Executive Officer of Housing Aged Action group Fiona York, more and more older people will die this summer due to a lack of air conditioning in rental homes and rising numbers 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.
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.
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.
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 (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.”
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.