Not ‘desirable’ tenants: mother of five told to lie about number of children when applying to rent accommodation

<span>Photograph: Darren England/AAP</span>
Photograph: Darren England/AAP

A mother of five says she was told to lie about how many children she had in order to secure rental accommodation, as the peak body for carers in Queensland says the state government has an “ethical and moral obligation” to intervene in the market.

In its submission to an inquiry examining a Greens proposal to freeze rents, Carers Queensland said the Logan family with five children – two of whom are registered with the NDIS – received no prior warning before they were issued with a rent increase of $170 a week.

“Unable to stay in the property and unable to secure public or social housing (they have been on the list for many years) the family joined the queue of other ‘would-be hopeful’ applicants,” Carers Queensland said.

“One real estate agent told Carer X to lie about the number of children she has because large families are not perceived ‘desirable’ tenants.

“Earlier this month the family became homeless.”

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The story of Carer X is similar to many that Carers Queensland say is unfolding across the state in a rental housing market that has “changed significantly” in the last 12 months.

Their submission was one of more than 130 made to a Queensland bill proposed by the Greens to freeze rents for two years. The call is being echoed by the Greens nationally, where federal MP Max Chandler-Mather has called for the Albanese government to add it to the national cabinet agenda.

He points to updated analysis by the Parliamentary Library which estimates that renters across Queensland would have been $2.5bn better off if rents had been frozen for the past 12 months.

The figures relied on SQM data showing rents increasing by 24% in Brisbane, meaning the city’s average renter is paying $5,104 more for their home than last year.

The Greens proposal has received mixed responses from the housing sector. Q Shelter policy and strategic engagement manager, Jackson Hills, was among several called before a parliamentary committee on Monday who praised the intention of a rent freeze, but questioned its impact.

Hills said the housing peak body had undertaken “objective analysis of the research already undertaken” on rental controls around the world and concluded a rent freeze could have “unintended consequences”.

“Most of these research contributions largely conclude that one of the unintended consequences of rent freezing can be the decrease of supply of rental properties, and a disincentive for owners to maintain properties to the standard we might consider adequate,” he said.

These were arguments forcefully expanded upon in industry submissions, such as that made by the Property Council of Australia, which claimed the Greens bill would only add “fuel to the fire” of the housing crisis.

Many property owners also made submissions to the proposal they felt was a “persecution and demonizing” of landlords. Among them was Mitchell Jex, who described it as a “horrible bill” that would punish people like him who had made “good financial moves and who have figured it out”.

“I should have the freedom to use my property as I see fit,” he said. “If the tenant finds it unreasonable, they should be free to vacate and find somewhere cheaper.”

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But with vacancy rates at record lows, dipping below 1% in many places across the state this year, for many that has not been an option.

In contrast to the many named submissions made by landlords, most renters opted to make their voices heard anonymously – few were willing to make public statements criticising those who own the roofs over their heads.

One such submission said they had been living for the last six years in a sharehouse in a “terrible state of disrepair” and in which the tenants had undertaken repairs, including using tarpaulins to fix the roof.

In September, their rent went from $300 to $500 a week. When the tenants complained, they were issued a notice to leave.

But Carers Queensland said despite being a controversial issue in which “renters and property owners often seen as adversarial”, both had a common interest in “long-term tenancies”.