Mystery Shoppers Went To 100 Open Homes Across Vic & Found Some Truly Atrocious Rentals

Rental quality standards may be too low, a research group says, as mystery shoppers posing as renters at open homes found that standards are easy to meet but don’t guarantee a healthy home.

From February to April 2023, Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) and Tenants Victoria sent mystery shoppers to 100 homes advertised for rent across Victoria. The shoppers went to open inspections see how renters would be treated and what they would see.

The properties were assessed on minimum standards and other state obligations and found that although most of the properties met the standards, lower priced homes often had more problems.

It also found that meeting minimum standards could be too easy and work was needed to raise the quality of living.

“The minimum standards offer important protections to people who rent; however, homes can meet these minimum standards and still not deliver safe and healthy homes,” the report said.

“This is best seen with the heating standard, where there is no requirement that homes have cooling features or that the heater will be adequate to heat key parts of the home. A heater could be installed in the living area but with no heating available in the bedrooms.”

It said that minimum standards should be expanded to cover adequacy of heating and cooling, insulation, and draught proofing throughout the home.

Of the 100 homes visited, nine had visible mould, 10 didn’t have window coverings, 15 failed to meet the standards for heating, and 26 did not have good smoke alarm placement.

Another five properties had “significant damage” to walls, floors and ceilings including major holes, cracks, and water and structural damage. Further, half of agents at the viewings were not able to provide information about the flat, including past mould, electrical safety compliance and heating efficiency.

As a result of its findings, CPRC made a number of recommendations to improve the quality of rentals. These included providing clear guidance to landlords about their legal obligations, improving standards to make homes more liveable, and strengthening safety rules.

Most significantly however, was the call for monitoring and enforcement of the private rental market.

Jordan van den Berg, a lawyer who runs the website and TikTok series ‘Shit Rentals’, had also called for an enforcement system, saying it was necessary and overdue.

“The [current] premise of [enforcement] is incorrect” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV last year.

“The government should be the one enforcing its legislation. If someone was murdered they would just investigate it, it wouldn’t be up to the victim to prove it happened, it’s not how it works.”

He said it would be very easy for state governments to create an enforcement team to ensure homes were up to standard before they were rented out.

“If you have a car you have to do a safety check before you take it on the road,” he said.

“Why don’t property owners have to do these safety checks before they rent a property out?”

The CPRC said that from here, it is looking to work with government and community sectors to change policy and improve rental conditions.