Many affordable rentals are failing to meet minimum standards, with an undercover operation discovering multiple maintenance issues including mould and ineffective heating.
People posing as potential tenants inspected 100 rental properties in Wyndham Vale in outer Melbourne and Bendigo in central Victoria to test how they fared under the state's rental minimum standards between February to April 2023.
A majority of the homes inspected appeared to meet the standards but a significant proportion, mainly at the more affordable end, did not, the Consumer Policy Research Centre and Tenants Victoria found.
More than a quarter of homes had maintenance issues, including visible mould in nine, 15 failed heating standards, 26 did not not meet a good standard for smoke alarm placement and 10 had no window coverings or curtains.
About 40 per cent low-cost rentals were not well-maintained compared to 18 per cent of higher-cost properties.
More enforcement is required across all affordable rentals to ensure renters are protected, the research centre's chief executive Erin Turner says.
"We did find that there's a lot of properties that are affordable that do meet the minimum standards, but we saw ... things that would make a home unsafe or unliveable," she said on ABC radio.
"There's a risk that in a tight rental market some people may feel they have no choice but to accept unsafe or unsuitable properties."
Real estate agents were also probed over the properties' gas and electrical safety compliance, heater energy efficiency and any mould history, of which only half were able to answer.
About 13 were unable to provide any information at all.
"There's room for improvement both for landlords to provide this information and for agents make sure they have it when people need it," Ms Turner said.
Victoria's minimum standards require buildings to be mould-free, have an energy efficient heater in the main living area and have compliant electrical switchboards, circuit breakers and safety switches.
Victoria is considered to have better renter protection but the research revealed too many homes still fail basic standards, Tenants Victoria boss Jennifer Beveridge
"This is cause for concern and shows that work must be done to improve conditions for the third of the population who rent their homes," she said.
The report made seven recommendations to strengthen protections including detailed guidance on what is required for a rental and for Consumer Affairs Victoria to monitor and enforce laws on properties with lower-than-average rent.
It also urged leaders to reform laws to ensure essential information about a property is provided at or before an inspection and expanding minimum standards to ensure people are comfortable and safer at home.
Australian Associated Press