Melbourne rents: $150 a bed ads raise concerns of overcrowding and exploitation
Domain
Christina Zhout
23 July 2017

Room shared by four females in apartment building.  Photo: Gumtree

Online advertisements are blatantly asking tenants to pay $150 a week to squeeze into a two-bedroom city apartment with seven others.

A profiteering operator could potentially pocket $1200 a week from a set up like this – triple Melbourne’s median unit rent.

The exorbitant asking price for a bed, typically in a shared furnished room, raises concerns about overcrowding and exploitation of international students.

Despite a Fairfax Media investigation into illegal high-rise rooming houses two years ago, many properties with rooms occupied by up to four people continue to fly under the radar of regulators.

Source: Gumtree

Experts are calling for the state and local governments to ramp up their efforts to police and identify illegal rooming houses.

Tenants Union of Victoria chief executive Mark O’Brien said some landlords saw leasing their properties room by room as a “money-making opportunity”.

“When you look at places like Gumtree, we routinely see advertisements for what we know are rooming houses, or seem to be rooming houses,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any trigger for anybody in state or local government to investigate whether they’re registered, and … whether or not the operator is a licensed operator.”

Photo: Gumtree

Cooperation between the two tiers of government was required, Mr O’Brien said, adding that he believed the problem stemmed from insufficient resources to support proactive investigations.

“Our view is that it’s not difficult to determine if it’s a rooming house, and council should be able to do that,” he said.

“Surely it would be as simple as the council just contacting the ratepayer and [saying] ‘We saw this advertisement, do you realise it appears you’re operating a rooming house? We want to meet you at the premise to have a look at what you’re doing.’ I don’t see it as being that complicated.”

A City of Melbourne spokeswoman said the council investigated 40 unregistered rooming house complaints so far this year. They said they also monitor digital platforms such as Facebook and Gumtree.

“These investigations have resulted in various actions, including requiring the premises to cease operating and requiring the number of people accommodated be reduced due to insufficient space,” she said. “It can be difficult to determine through an advertisement whether the accommodation requires registration as a rooming house because most share houses will be exempt.”

The spokeswoman said, based on the information in the advertisement below, the apartment appeared to be a share house rather than a rooming house.


Source: Facebook

Experts say a shortage of affordable rental properties is also driving demand for share rooms. Melbourne’s median unit rent rose 1.3 per cent over the quarter to a record $400, Domain Group data shows, and the proportion of vacant units in Melbourne fell to 1.7 per cent from 2.7 per cent a year ago.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive Gil King said part of the solution was to ensure there was more public and affordable housing options.

“If it’s not available on … an affordable basis legitimately, people will find ways around it,” he said. “They will cram themselves into cheaper accommodation just to make it work, and that does pose a risk, not just to them, but to other users of the premises.”

Mr King said universities and tertiary institutions could also provide information to foreign students.

Photo: Gumtree

Online advertisements are blatantly asking tenants to pay $150 a week to squeeze into a two-bedroom city apartment with seven others.

A profiteering operator could potentially pocket $1200 a week from a set up like this – triple Melbourne’s median unit rent.

The exorbitant asking price for a bed, typically in a shared furnished room, raises concerns about overcrowding and exploitation of international students.

Despite a Fairfax Media investigation into illegal high-rise rooming houses two years ago, many properties with rooms occupied by up to four people continue to fly under the radar of regulators.


Source: Facebook

Experts are calling for the state and local governments to ramp up their efforts to police and identify illegal rooming houses.

Tenants Union of Victoria chief executive Mark O’Brien said some landlords saw leasing their properties room by room as a “money-making opportunity”.

“When you look at places like Gumtree, we routinely see advertisements for what we know are rooming houses, or seem to be rooming houses,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any trigger for anybody in state or local government to investigate whether they’re registered, and … whether or not the operator is a licensed operator.”

Experts say a shortage of affordable rental properties is also driving demand for share rooms. Melbourne’s median unit rent rose 1.3 per cent over the quarter to a record $400, Domain Group data shows, and the proportion of vacant units in Melbourne fell to 1.7 per cent from 2.7 per cent a year ago.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive Gil King said part of the solution was to ensure there was more public and affordable housing options.

“If it’s not available on … an affordable basis legitimately, people will find ways around it,” he said. “They will cram themselves into cheaper accommodation just to make it work, and that does pose a risk, not just to them, but to other users of the premises.”

Mr King said universities and tertiary institutions could also provide information to foreign students.

Council of International Students Australia spokeswoman Karen Cochrane said not understanding their rights in the rental market was an issue for international students.

She said the worst case she heard was a room shared by six students, with their space partitioned by cardboard.

“There’s definitely going to be people who take advantage of international students, and as more come in, more will get taken advantage of,” Ms Cochrane said.

Department of Education and Training data shows 161,223 international students had studied in Victoria from January to May, up 15.8 per cent compared with the same time last year.

University of Melbourne Student Union president Yan Zhuang said it had become increasingly difficult for students to find suitable accommodation as rent prices continued to rise, particularly in the CBD.

She said the shared housing market was extremely competitive, with ads on popular Facebook groups often attracting more than 30 responses.

Trying to apply for a lease with a couple of friends is often extremely difficult when students don’t always already have a rental history that guarantees them as being good renters, or stable jobs and sources of income,” she said.

“As all of these housing options have become increasingly difficult to obtain, students are often left with no other choice than to entering housing agreements that are not above board. And I would say that in a significant portion of the cases students are aware the situation is less than ideal, but simply can see no other options.”

Acting Consumer Affairs minister James Merlino said the state government was stepping in to protect vulnerable residents living in rooming houses.

“Earlier this year, tough new laws came into effect requiring rooming house operators to obtain a licence to operate,” he said. “Rooming houses are also required to register with their local council.

“Anyone who suspects an unregistered rooming house is operating in their area should contact their local council.”


top  contents  chapter  previous  next