Rental market in crisis: too many applicants, not enough houses

It's tough for prospective tenants in Murray Bridge at the moment. These are some of their stories.

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Stacey Cioffi says she and her husband tick all the boxes.

They are always ahead on their rental payments, they keep their home neat and tidy, and they earn a comfortable income as the owners of a cleaning service and boutique homewares shop.

But, after almost eight months, they have not been able to find a house to rent in Murray Bridge.

“We have absolutely no idea (why),” she told Murray Bridge News.

They are not alone.

The local rental market has reached crisis point this month, as dozens of people – if not more – have been left stressed, frustrated and on the brink of homelessness.

The reason?

There just aren’t enough houses to go around, most tenants say.

More than 250 residential properties in Murray Bridge were listed for sale with realestate.com.au and Domain this week, but just 29 were available to rent.

Tenant after tenant reached out to Murray Bridge News on Facebook yesterday and today, sharing their experiences.

Baylie Reu said she and her boyfriend had applied for about 70 houses since April – “it’s so very stressful”.

Janelle Twiner said she and her husband had applied for 42 – “I’m afraid that we are going to be homeless”.

Another local business owner said he had resorted to paying $150 per night for a holiday rental where his in-laws and an employee were now living together while each searched for something more permanent.

Another said she had applied for “almost every rental available” in the Murraylands over the past 10 months and still failed to find a place.

The biggest frustration for many was not just the shortage of properties, but the lack of feedback on their rental applications.

“There is no transparency in the process,” said another local woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of having a black mark put against her name.

“You are not provided with any reason or feedback as to why you were unsuccessful.

“Can’t improve an application if (you are) unaware what the issue is.”

Laura Ullucci and Kristen Hundertmark regularly deal with rental applications at First National Real Estate in Murray Bridge. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Rental market a product of the broader economy, real estate agents suggest

First National Real Estate director Sylvia Presepio said there simply weren’t a lot of rental properties around at the moment.

Murray Bridge was growing, it was affordable, and demand was high.

She estimated that about half of the city’s residents were renting, often because they could not save enough of a deposit to buy.

That left thousands of people in competition for the same pool of properties, one which was not currently increasing fast enough.

Property manager Kristin Hundertmark suggested the financial stresses being experienced by many landlords were a factor – more and more people’s tenancies were ending because houses were being sold.

“(Homeowners) get more equity in their homes, so they buy a rental property, they’re fairly highly geared and they need that (rental) income every month,” she said.

Perhaps those pressures were pushing more landlords to sell up, or perhaps an influx of home buyers seeking to live in Murray Bridge was reducing the number of houses which might otherwise have been put out to rent.

The agents’ top tips to rental applicants were:

  • Include as much information as possible on an application form, especially if asked to write a bit about yourself and your story

  • Be sure to have identification, a rental history, evidence of employment and character references if possible – “once you get a good rental reference, that’s 80 per cent of the battle”

  • Strike up a conversation with real estate agents and their staff – they are more likely to go into bat for you if they have a sense for who you are and where you’re coming from

  • Register your details with each real estate agency, as many properties are rented before being publicly advertised

However, they defended the practice of not providing feedback on rental applications.

For one thing, it would be time-consuming – “we get so many applications that it’s too hard to physically ring everybody”, Mrs Presepio said.

Professional ethics would also stop her sharing information she had received privately, she said, even if that information was a reference about an applicant.

Landlords are not allowed to discriminate between tenants

Discrimination against certain tenants was another issue several raised with Murray Bridge News.

“I think there are assumptions made about types of applicants, there must be,” one said.

“Otherwise how do you whittle down a pile so large?”

Mrs Presepio and Ms Hundertmark responded by saying they did not discriminate, and were not allowed to do so.

According to the Real Estate Institute of South Australia, neither are landlords – they only have the right to choose the tenant who is best suited to their properties.

Applicants cannot be judged on the basis of their age, sex, sexuality, disability, race, religion, children or partner, among other things.

Ms Hundertmark said landlords usually considered an applicant’s income – “not their whole financial situation” – as well as their rental history, the suitability of the property to the tenants’ needs, and references from an employer, if applicable.

Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against can take action through the Equal Opportunity Commission.

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