Rechel Clark is trying to complete year 12 at the age of 21 after having a baby, but attending dozens of rental inspections is putting her further behind in her studies.

Along with her toddler, she has been forced to cram in with her mother because she cannot afford a rental on her own and fears she has been priced out by people engaging in rental bidding practices.

Rental prices in Adelaide have risen 13.5 per cent in 12 months.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Every state in Australia has now either outlawed or promised to ban rental bidding – a practice when an agent solicit bids from prospective tenants above the original asking price.

Since being banned in South Australia in September, four real estate agents or landlords have been fined for breaking the laws.

The figure has highlighted the possible ineffectiveness of the new ban, along with concerns over compliance and the ability to monitor the practice.

Rental bidding laws in the state also do not stop would-be renters from offering above the asking price off their own backs or prevent agents from accepting the higher bids.

Most vulnerable hit hardest

Ms Clark and her mother, Priscilla O’Brien, have been to 30 rental inspections in Adelaide. They said the constant rejections were taking a toll.

“[I’m] up all night sick, stressed and worried,” Ms O’Brien said when asked how the process was impacting her mental health.

Priscilla O’Brien says she has had many restless nights thinking about where she is going to live.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Fighting back tears, she explained how she had stable accommodation for nine years, but that ended in 2020.

Since then, she has been forced to find a new rental each year.

She has a job but says her pet dogs may be why she is struggling to find a home in the competitive rental market.

Just 0.83 per cent of rental properties in Adelaide are vacant, according to PropTrack’s latest data.

Domain’s new rent report shows the median Adelaide asking price for rent is now $590 a week, up 13.5 per cent in the past 12 months. 

“She [my daughter] was living on her own and she came living back with me because of finances and extra support,” Ms O’Brien said.

Ms Clark said she could not afford any rentals advertised in the western suburbs on her own.

She said she barely had enough energy to complete her studies, and looking after her son while searching for a home had been compounding her stress.

Rechel Clarke struggles to keep up with school while house hunting.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

“I’ve been homeless before in motel accommodation,” Ms Clark said.

“It’s not having home-cooked meals, it’s having to buy frozen meals, not eating sustainably to keep energy levels up to be able to go house inspections, go to school, get my son to school — things I’d be able to do in a home.”

She said it was unfair to engage in rental bidding and she was not in a financial position to do so.

She said she was trying to finish her education to get a better job but found herself trapped in a vicious cost-of-living cycle.

Crackdown on rent bidding

Andrea Michaels, the SA minister for consumer and business affairs, revealed four agents had been charged with rental bidding since the laws came into effect last September.

“[That includes] agents who have done the wrong thing in terms of not having a fixed price, having ads that say contact the agent or saying all offers considered,” Ms Michaels told the ABC.

Andrea Michaels says four people have been fined since the introduction of the new laws. (ABC News: Briana Fiore)

She said the laws were needed to ensure people could fairly apply for a home within their budget.

“Effectively a rent auction is banned now … giving people certainty over the properties they’re applying for,” she said.

Agents found to have engaged in the practice will be charged $1,200 and a victim of crime levy.

Policing is difficult

Shelter SA executive director Alice Clark said wording was important and rental bidding had not actually been banned.

What had been barred, she said, were rental auctions initiated by agents.

Alice Clark says policing rental bidding is difficult.(ABC News: Brant Cummings.)

“It’s a little embarrassing to be talking about banning something that hasn’t actually been banned and is highlighting the ineffectiveness of the compliance with the law,” Dr Clark said.

However, Ms Michaels said stopping people from putting in higher bids was a difficult thing to police.

Dr Clark said people might also be hesitant to report agents who asked for higher prices as it might jeopardise future applications with the same agent.

She said South Australia was lagging behind in the rental advocacy space and the state government should invest and fund those systems to enable better compliance and reporting of rental breaches.

People are urged to report agents who encourage rental bidding to Consumer and Business Services.