With her budget already stretched, an unexpected rent increase almost left Helena* and her two children with nowhere to live.

Helena is a single parent living on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. It’s the only place she has lived since moving to Australia with her partner some ten years ago.

Helena has two children, one at school and the other part time at kindergarten. A couple of years ago, Helena separated from her partner and moved into a place of her own with the children.

Helena found a two-bedroom, one bathroom property to rent which cost her $450 per week. It was a stretch, but she made it work and signed a 12-month agreement.

With about four months left on the fixed term agreement Helena approached the agent about a subsequent tenancy agreement and asked if there would be a rent increase. The landlord conducted an inspection and Helena was informed that her rent would increase by $100 per week (a 22% increase).

This is a large increase for Helena. Her primary source of income is a parenting payment. Helena also studies part time and has a few hours of paid work but that income is inconsistent. She manages her money closely and plans carefully to ensure she and her kids have what they need. She told the agent that she needed to work on her budget before confirming.

The agent came back to Helena and told her that she will need to move out as there was someone else taking the property when the lease expired.

This sent Helena on a four-month journey of trying to find another property to coincide with her need to move – she was in no position to pay double rent and timing was crucial.  She attended tens of inspections over that time. Many were open houses where there we 30 or more people inspecting.

She made several applications but was not successful. Helena thinks that she was subjected to discriminatory behaviour based on the fact that she is a single parent relying on a parenting payment. Occasionally an agent would contact and let her know that she was unsuccessful but more commonly she would get no response to her applications.

Helena explained her experience – it was difficult to find a property before COVID when the family all lived together but this recent experience was so extreme and difficult she feared for what might happen to her and the kids.  Some of the places she inspected were garages turned into ‘granny flats’  with no outdoor area, renting for several hundred dollars per week.

As the end of her fixed term agreement approached, Helena’s agent contacted her to say the other person had fallen through and, if she wanted, she could stay. Helena immediately took this opportunity, with the $100 per week increase.

This second 12-month fixed term agreement will end in a few months and Helena has again reached out to her agent to find out if they will offer another subsequent agreement, and if so, at what cost.

Her agent has told her the landlord will re-sign for another year but with a $25/week increase (another 5.5% increase).

This will really stress the family’s budget. Helena is already paying about 50 – 60% of her income in rent. She has changed her shopping habits to stretch the budget and thinks she may need to get another job when the rent increases again.

She worries what will happen in the future. If her rent increased again next year, she won’t be able to pay. Despite her high level of organisation and pre planning, her budget will be stretched to the maximum with this rent increase, and she can’t plan for major expenses.

Helena has no other family in Australia. Staying in the community she has created for herself and her children is important for her well-being and that of her kids.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons