There's a reason you're finding it hard to get a rental if you have kids.

Let's be frank: the housing situation in Australia right now is in total crisis.

Families are being forced to live in 'tent communities' across the country.

Recent reports from Domain show the national vacancy rate for rentals has hit a record low of 0.7 per cent as of February 2024.

Rising property prices are leaving more people in the rental market than ever before.

Average rental costs are soaring with the median cost per year equating to $31,252. This number is inflated even further in cities, with several major capitals becoming untenable for many to live. This mass exodus is then putting further strain on regional cities and towns, which are experiencing an influx of people searching for housing.

Homelessness rates are also on the rise.

Oh, and data analysts are projecting we have another four years ahead of us when it comes to decreasing supply and increasing demand in the housing market across Australia.

In short, it's a s**t show out there and the worsening crisis is having a very dire and devastating impact on our most vulnerable community members. Every day, we are hearing more and more stories of parents (and, in particular, single parents) getting knocked back from rental applications. Many believe they are being unlawfully discriminated against because they have children.

As a result, we are seeing frustrations build as parents are forced to live in unsuitable housing while they continue to grapple with a crumbling sector that seems to be casting families aside.


One Facebook rental group opened up a discussion about getting rejected from rental applications. Another mother questioned whether she should leave her children off future applications in order to look more 'appealing' to landlords.

It's clear that thousands of families are feeling distressed about their current and future living situations.

But if this is really going on in communities across Australia — is it even legal? And what can be done to fix it?

What is rental discrimination?

According to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, it is unlawful to treat someone unfairly based on their age, which includes discrimination due to having children.

The NSW Department of Fair Trading sets out to further define these parameters, stating that it is against the law to discriminate based on age or pregnancy and "a landlord or agent cannot apply a rule, policy, practice or procedure that adversely affects a group of people".

When looking at discrimination against families, this sub-section is known as 'associate' age discrimination, meaning that the age discrimination falls on an associate of the person applying for housing. Dr Chris Martin, a Senior Research Fellow in the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW, says that this type of discrimination was actually rife in Australia long before our current housing crisis erupted.


"Provisions outlawing discrimination in rental housing against people with children were among the earliest anti-discrimination laws in Australia," he tells Mamamia. "So it's been a problem a long time, and remains one."

Often landlords and agents will refer to an unofficial 'risk assessment' when choosing a tenant and unfortunately these characteristics can mean families and single parents can unlawfully fall within the so-called 'risky' categories.

"Discrimination is treating a person with a characteristic or status less favourably than another person without that characteristic or status," says Dr Martin. "In this case, 'less favourable' might mean an agent or landlord refusing to rent a dwelling to the person."

On the matter of 'risk', parents are continuously falling short in a highly competitive market, says Leo Patterson Ross, CEO of the Tenants' Union of UNSW.

"Parents, especially single parents, may represent a riskier proposition," he says. "Single parents have it particularly tough because they start on the back foot in terms of income, as there is only one of them, but also if they fall sick or have to take time off, they aren't seen as having the backup income to continue paying rent."

Watch: Canna Campbell is the money-whispering single mum who can turn your finances around. Post continues below.

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How can you prove rental discrimination?

Despite these laws and regulations, we are still seeing a large number of people citing rental discrimination, which means there are landlords and agents who are acting unlawfully.

A report from Shelter surveyed a number of people and found that around 10 per cent of them felt they had experienced rental discrimination based on having young children.

But proving this kind of discrimination continues to be difficult.

"It can be hard to prove," says Dr Martin. "Agents and landlords are under no obligation to tell you why they have refused to rent to you."

Ross mirrors these sentiments: "While the law does prohibit unlawful discrimination, including of having children, it is largely ineffective in renting because there is no transparency in the process of applying for a new home," he says. 

"You can be turned away for any reason — including unlawful ones — without being able to know why."

As frustrating as this is, if you feel like you've been discriminated against because you're a parent, there are a couple of ways to take it further. First, Dr Martin says you can go the vigilante route to see if you've been unfairly risk-assessed. 


"Perhaps ask the agent what other properties they have available and then get a friend without kids to come in and ask what's available with the same number of rooms, and see if more is on offer [to them]," he says.

Alternatively, there are official processes in place to support those who believe they have been unlawfully discriminated against. All states and territories have anti-discrimination bodies that have avenues to support lodgements for complaint.

"I'd encourage people to use them, even though it can be hard to prove and the complaints process can take some time," says Dr Martin. "Just making the complaint can help you feel that you've had your say and may prompt the agent or landlord to clean up their act, even if there's no finding of wrongdoing."

It's not a foolproof process and by no means does it guarantee getting you closer towards finding a roof over your head — but mounting complaints could lead to increased policy and reform on a much larger scale.

What is the solution to the housing crisis for families?

The government has committed to building 1.2 million new homes over the next five years. But where does that leave young families — many of them single parents on a solo income — who are desperate for housing now?

Dr Martin says these initiatives will barely scratch the surface in making a dent in the low supply and high demand for rental properties across the country.

"Some recent Federal government initiatives, like the Housing Australia Future Fund and the Social Housing Accelerator funding, will go some way but not far enough," he says. "We need to do about four times as much for five times as long."


It's clear we have a lot of work to do in order to meet those criteria.

"The bigger reform we need is to grow our social and affordable rental housing sectors," he continues. "At last count [the 2021 census], there were about 640,000 Australian households with an unmet housing need — about half were families with children."

This a complex problem and one that needs to be approached from a number of different angles.

"It's important to recognise that there's no one solution here," says Ross. 

"At a fundamental level we need to treat housing like the essential service that it is and make sure that it is both available at the levels that the community needs and provided in a way that reflects those needs. Government really needs to step in a bring some leadership to the sector, just as they do with other essentials."

According to reports from UNSW, that figure is projected to grow to 940,000 by 2041, meaning we have a huge task ahead when it comes to providing social and affordable housing to Australians now and in the future.

Until solutions are found, our most vulnerable will continue to do it tough amid one of the worst housing crises our country has ever seen.

Feature Image: Canva.

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