Ballarat's tight rental market is causing grief for many hopeful tenants

CLARIFICATION – Wednesday March 14

The print version of this story carried a subheading that implied the Gaynors had a clean rental record. Both the Gaynors and a former landlord have now confirmed that in a former tenancy the Gaynors failed on several occasions to pay their rent, and forfeited their tenancy in lieu of payments when the landlord gave them notice to vacate. This was not revealed to the reporter at the time of interview.

The landlord has said he initiated a private rental when the Gaynors said they had financial problems, but realised the situation was not able to be rectified later, and felt forced to end the lease.

He said the property leased required substantial repairs following the tenancy.

THESE ARE THE NEW FACES OF HOMELESSNESS

Bill and Melissa Gaynor are facing homelessness. It’s a prospect the couple and their five children wouldn’t have thought possible until their rental home was put on the market recently, forcing them to seek new accommodation. 

Desperate situation: Melissa and Bill Gaynor, their family and Melissa's mother Sharon.  The Gaynors have had 43 rental applications rejected in Ballarat. Picture: Kate Healy.

Desperate situation: Melissa and Bill Gaynor, their family and Melissa's mother Sharon. The Gaynors have had 43 rental applications rejected in Ballarat. Picture: Kate Healy.

Forty-three rejected property applications later, the Gaynors are looking at living at Melissa’s mother Sharon Keating’s home – but the two-bedroom house is too small for them. Sharon’s own mother, who is terminally ill, is also living there, as are two of Melissa’s brothers.

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It’s driving the family to desperation. While they are unwilling to seek emergency housing, feeling there are others more needy, it may become necessary if they remain without a home.

The Gaynors’ circumstances are symptomatic of a broader problem in Ballarat’s rental market. Despite a seemingly healthy number of properties being available, vacancy rates are at lows not seen since 2011. An REIV report states Ballarat rental vacancies have dropped two per cent recently. Local real estate agents are experiencing below one per cent available vacancies.

Statistics are one thing. The bitter experience and humiliation of being unable to find a home is another. Melissa Gaynor says she’s been in tears more often than not about what has happened to her family.

She says despite offering to pay more than the asking rate on a rental, they cannot find somewhere to live.

I’ve been in tears every single unsuccessful application; every text message saying ‘you’re unsuccessful’, I’m in tears. If it was just Bill and I, I’d be happy to sleep in the car.

Melissa Gaynor

“We both work, we both have good jobs,” says Melissa, who’s employed at Woolworths; Bill’s been at Laminex for five and half years.

“A lot of the houses we’ve applied for and been knocked back for, they are still for lease weeks later,” Melissa says.

The Gaynors say they have no pets, and have an unblemished rental record.

“We’ve been in our current rental for two years; prior to that we were four years with a private rental; before that we were renting with a real estate agent. We’ve been together for 18 years, we’ve never had any dramas.

“I’ve been in tears every single unsuccessful application; every text message saying ‘you’re unsuccessful’, I’m in tears. If it was just Bill and I, I’d be happy to sleep in the car.”

HOUSES REMAIN UNTENANTED DESPITE LOW OCCUPANCIES

Another Ballarat resident who broke her lease after buying a house says she’s still paying rent six weeks later, despite the property having had at least six open house viewings with between 10 and 17 prospective tenants attending each time. 

“I wonder if the landlords or the agents are discriminating against potential tenants,” the resident said.

“I know there are families who are struggling to rent, to find rental properties.”

THE AGENT”S VIEW

Michael Darken is a senior property manager with PRD nationwide real estate agents in Ballarat. He’s also a family man, with six children, and he’s compassionate about the Gaynor’s plight.

“They are victims,” he says.

“The bracket they are in is tightening. Owners in Ballarat are selling, and the market here is extremely competitive. The portion of the market they were in – it’s gone.”

Darken says the market has risen so quickly in Ballarat that supply and demand have fallen out of balance. Houses are being bought by Melbourne and out-of-region investors and they are not coming back into the market.

He says there’s no reason to think the stock will not re-enter at some time – but that’s little comfort for a family like the Gaynors and the many others finding themselves without a home.

“A landlord wants peace of mind. That’s all there is to it. It’s hard, and people can’t simply change their families, but the landlords here are now spoiled for choice and they can comb out the people they don’t want,” he says.

“They simply see it as the more people on the lease, the more potential for headaches. So it’s a process of elimination. A single person or a couple can be see as potentially less trouble than a family with children regardless of whether it is actually the case.”

Mr Darken said this time of the year is also traditionally turbulent, and the red-hot Ballarat market is not helping.