RENTERS are increasingly living with uncertainty and fear of eviction while affordable housing becomes increasingly unattainable, according to a new national study.
More than eight out of 10 renters in Australia have no fixed-term lease or are on a lease less than 12 months long, while more than 60 per cent of renters say they are reluctant to ask the landlord for repairs for fear of eviction or a rent hike.
"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, the National Association of Tenants' Organisations' spokesman.
"This is all the more of a concern when you consider the rising number of long-term renters across Australia."
The survey of more than 1000 renters was co-commissioned by the tenants' organisation, consumer group Choice and National Shelter, who are collectively calling for governments to prioritise rental security and quality issues, along with housing affordability.
Cockroaches, mould and windows and doors that don't close properly were the most complained about issues facing renters, the majority of whom choose to shut up and put up with the substandard conditions.
"It's hard to imagine a product or service this poor in any other sector," said Choice's CEO Alan Kirkland.
Sydney musician Mary Rapp, who has rented various properties for the last 11 years, found herself paying rent on two properties last year, after the flat she moved into in Ashfield became uninhabitable.
"It was freshly painted when I moved in during the summer but two months later the rain came down and mould grew all over the walls and doors," she said.
"The tenants above me said they had moved out of my flat because of the mould problem, so the owner had just painted over it (before re-leasing).
"I complained to the real estate agent but she told me it was mildew, not mould, so it was my fault for not ventilating the place properly."
The 28 year-old asthma sufferer was forced to move out. Her request to end the lease early due to health reasons was denied, so she had to continue paying rent while living elsewhere until the lease expired.
Many tenants remain unaware of their rights enshrined in law, and the option of taking an unresolved dispute to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
According to Tenants NSW, a landlord must provide premises in a 'reasonably' clean state and fit to live in. They must also maintain the premises in 'reasonable' repair - with the definition of 'reasonable' depending on the age of the premises and the amount of rent paid.
Notices to vacate must be given 30 to 90 days prior, depending on the nature of the lease.
When it comes to evictions due to natural disasters, however, tenants can find themselves out on the street within days.
The roof was blown away on the Marrickville rental house Joel Rosenzveig shares with five other students and young professionals during last weekend's storms. The household, including two Italians and one British national, assumed it would be temporarily homeless.
Having already signed an agreement not to re-enter the house due to safety concerns, the tenants set up tents in the garden to sleep in.
On Tuesday they learnt their homeless state was permanent and immediate. They were given notice by a McGrath Real Estate property manager to quit the property within 24 hours.
"We've now got nowhere to live and we can't even get inside to get our belongings," Mr Rosenzveig said.
"My housemates, three are from overseas (two Italians and one British national), they have no support networks, they don't have friends they can couch surf with, they have nowhere to go."
According to NSW Fair Trading, if a property is destroyed or becomes totally or partly uninhabitable through a natural disaster, a termination notice can take effect immediately. However, tenants cannot be evicted without a NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal order.
Head of network property management for McGrath, Michael Conolly, said the earliest date an application could be heard by NCAT was 28 February.
"We are trying to assist them to find alternative accommodation, but there are six of them" he said. "The termination notice was given purely for their own protection - the fire brigade and the insurer said it was no longer safe to inhabit the house."
The study also found that perceived discrimination in the fiercely competitive rental market was widespread.
Almost one quarter of potential renters said they believed they had missed out on a property because they had a pet, while being on government benefits, aged over 35 or having young children were also perceived as disadvantages.
TOP 5 RENTAL WOES
1. Pests (cockroaches, rodents, moths etc) - 27%
2. Persistent mould - 25%
3. Doors/windows that don't close - 24%
4. Peeling paint/broken tiles - 22%
5. Leaks/flooding - 21%
1. Owning a pet - 23%
2. On government benefits - 17%
3. Too young - 14%
4. Young children - 10%