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25 January, 2022

Rental crisis worsens

FAMILIES are contacting caravan parks and welfare organisations in the desperate hope they may be able to find somewhere to live as the rental crisis continues to worsen in the region.

By Robyn Holmes

Photo - Dreamstime

Real estate agents are turning away people on a daily basis who are trying to secure a rental property, with very few now available on the books and those that are available quite expensive. 

Atherton Total Care Realty’s director Kerry Grainger, whose business only deals with rentals, said the situation was the worst she had ever seen in her 25 years of operation, canvassing between 10-20 inquiries a day. 

“In my 25 years, I have never had a situation where we are giving notices to tenants to vacate properties on a daily basis – it’s hard when you have to tell an 80-year-old he has to leave and he has nowhere to go,” she said. 

People were resorting to living in their cars, staying at motels or caravan parks at “exorbitant prices” or staying with family or friends which was leading to the overcrowding of houses. 

“As far as our business goes, we have lost 30 per cent of our rent roll as landlords are selling houses, with many people buying to live in them but others are purchased by travellers who want a home base but the house itself is left vacant which is a waste of a resource when you have a rental crisis,” Ms Grainger said. 

Mareeba’s Rural Ray White principal Norma Moloney is experiencing the same trend, with between 30-40 applications now not uncommon for any rental property that becomes available. 

“There are certainly more prospective tenants around than there are rental properties,” she said. 

Ms Moloney attributed the limited number of rental properties to investors selling up rental houses to capitalise on the current buoyant sales market and southerners moving north to escape the Covid chaos happening in big cities. 

“Southerners can sell their house down there for a good price and buy a property up here for a lot less so it’s good value for them – we have sold several properties sight unseen,” Ms Moloney said. 

“Then there are the investors who may not have been able to sell their properties before and get the price they wanted, but now the market is what it is, they can get the price they want and they have chosen to take advantage of the situation and you can’t blame them,” she said. 

New owners more than likely wanted to live in the property, meaning renters are forced out and now have nowhere to go. 

Atherton’s Ray White Rural principal Margaret Black says January is traditionally a busy time for rentals as people transferred for work, but she has never seen the situation so bad. 

“We currently have a number of applications from doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals transferring for work which is normal at this time but to add to this is the number of applicants from southern states wanting a lifestyle change and people that have sold their homes and need somewhere to live. There just isn't enough to go around,” she said. 

“We had a tenant who was living in a tent with her family for months at caravan parks, having to pack up and move repeatedly when they had stayed too long. Eventually we found the family a rental but it took months.” 

Making the situation worse was the rising cost of rentals, says Ms Moloney. 

“With supply and demand the way it is, prices of rentals that are available are also higher than they were,” she said. 

Because rentals were now costing between $350-$450 a week, people who wanted to buy a house were struggling to save a deposit. 

“It’s a vicious cycle because the renters can’t pay that high price for rent and save for a deposit,” Ms Moloney said. 

Ms Grainger has been counselling her landlords to keep rents reasonable, arguing that high rents are not sustainable for tenants in the long-run. 

“Tenants may start off well paying a high rent but more than often the income they are getting doesn’t match what they are being asked to pay in rent so they get into arrears or do a runner,” she said. 

Ms Grainger said with no end in sight to the crisis, it may be time to question property owners of houses that are left vacant for no apparent reason. 

She suggested that Australia may want to follow an overseas program where authorities check vacant housing, contact the owner and question as to why the property is vacant during a housing shortage. 

“I can’t see this rental crisis ending soon – maybe when this pandemic is done and dusted but no one knows when that will be,” Ms Grainger said.

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