The New South Wales Department of Fair Trading is investigating claims of price gouging in the state’s rental market in the wake of the bushfires, and says it will name and shame offenders.
The loss of hundreds of properties is putting increased pressure on an already very tight rental market in Sydney and surrounding areas.
NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts has told AM that landlords are on notice for any unethical behaviour during a time of distress for so many people.
“We’ve had one case where the landlord went to their agent and said I want you to put up the price as much as possible because of the lack of availability of homes following 200 homes being burnt down,” Mr Roberts said.
“The real estate agent was very cooperative and of course contacted the authorities, and we’ll be running a zero tolerance policy on this.”
Mr Roberts said another home listed for $350 a week “not two weeks ago” is now priced at $420 a week.
He called the actions “white collar looting” and said the department would investigate and prosecute if necessary.
“There are serious financial penalties for unconscionable conduct and those fines are $220,000 for an individual or $1.1 million for a corporation,” he said.
“What I can also do under the Fair Trading Act is name and shame individuals, and we will not hesitate to name and shame individuals who are profiteering from this crisis.”
Mr Roberts says officers from his department are inspecting rental arrangements.
“We have agents in the field at the moment, visiting real estate agents, informing them that whilst it’s okay within a market place to charge a fair rate, if we find any instances of what we consider unconscionable conduct with respect to price gouging, people taking advantage of this crisis to make money, we will again use the full force of the law to prosecute them,” he said.
But Mr Roberts said insurance companies had been helpful.
“What we’re seeing is when someone loses their home, the insurance companies have been very proactive in this area finding homes for people,” he said.