A new report has found that the number of older Australians who are private tenants will more than double over the next 15 years, as discussion rages about how to better protect and serve the needs of these tenants.

In late July, the respected Australian Housing and Research Institute (AHURI) published a report on demographic trends for housing assistance in Australia.

The report finds that the number of private renters aged 65 and over will increase from 246,439 in 2011 to 581,134 in 2031 – a jump of 131 per cent. This represents the greatest tenant population percentage rise out of any age group during this period.

The report also predicts that the percentage of people aged over 65 who are private renters will increase from 9.3 per cent in 2011 to 11.7 per cent in 2031.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people aged over 65 in public housing is expected to crash from 5.2 per cent to just 2.8 per cent over the same period. The number of people aged over 65 who own a home (around 80%) will remain stable to 2031.

“An important feature is the very large increase in the number and tenure share of private rental housing among the elderly. This increase comes about because we assume no expansion in public housing,” the report says.

“Those elderly persons, who would have been accommodated in public housing if it had been expanded to meet growing need, instead find themselves renting in private rental housing.

“The projected number of elderly private renters more than doubles from its 2011 level of 246,000 to 581,000 in 2031.”

The study was done to calculate the number of households who are likely to be eligible to receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) over the next decade. It finds there could be a 60 per cent increase in eligible households, with CRA costs to potentially rise from $2.8 billion in 2011 to $4.5 billion in 2031.

Increased discussion on improving tenant security

As the dramatic likely increase in elderly tenants becomes clearer, there has finally been some discussion about governments providing longer leases and greater rights for long-term and vulnerable tenants.

On 12 August, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the NSW Government was looking at encouraging a ‘build to rent’ construction model, under which new apartment buildings would be built specifically for long-term tenants rather than to be sold to the highest bidder.

"Current property prices make the dream of home-ownership more difficult than for past generations," Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was reported as saying. "But for long-term renting to be a viable alternative, it has to be affordable and it has to be secure.”

Meanwhile, a review of tenancy laws in NSW has recommended that legal changes be investigated to make it easier for landlords and tenants to strike longer-term leases, particularly of more than five years. The government has said it will be introducing new legislation in 2017, but there is no evidence of this mooted legislation in the Fair Trading NSW review page.

However, the same review also rejects moves by tenancy advocates to introduce restrictions on when a landlord can evict a tenant.  In NSW, as in most Australian States, landlords do not have to cite any grounds to force an eviction.

Meanwhile, Senior Flatmates – allowing people to post free ads seeking shared rental accommodation, or advertising a room to rent - which is owned by established website Seniors Housing Online – has been the focus of media attention for its unique model which seeks to connect elderly tenants to live in share houses.

“Some people are going into share housing because they can’t afford an alternative,” Senior Flatmates co-founder Amanda Graham says.

“They might have divorced, or lost a partner, been made redundant, or relocated. Others are simply hitting their 50s still with a large mortgage. They might have an empty bedroom they can rent out, or they might be searching for rental accommodation but can't afford to rent privately by themselves. Our site is about using the sharing economy to connect people, and offer more affordable rental accommodation to meet the level of demand. People with empty bedrooms, who are considering downsizing, and people who are searching for affordable rental accommodation are already using our main website so this is an effective way of connecting the two groups and helping to match compatible individuals.”