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Wanted: Little white lies

In today's 'Fridays in February' column, Tom Cowie looks at the web of lies spun between applicants and agents in the rental market.

Steve lies about his job all the time. Some days he is a computer technician, other days he is a bar manager.

He also lies about his salary. He often doubles ­– or even triples – what he actually earns to make a more favourable impression.

It has become so desperate for Steve, that he doesn’t simply verbalise these lies, he writes them down on a legal contract and signs off on them.

Steve isn’t alone, he is just one of thousands of prospective renters lying about his details regularly in order to gain tenancy in Melbourne.

Renting a property in Melbourne has become an extremely difficult task, as each week properties listed by agents barely satisfy a growing demand.

Properties advertised on the major websites will often last a week and sometimes just a day.

It has become so competitive that renters like Steve are often expected to offer more than the listed price in order to better their chances.

According to the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, the rental market has shrunk in the last decade, with less properties available to meet the growing pool of applicants.

To try and beat other applicants to a property, people like Steve have no alternative but to lie on rental applications. Real estate agents know this, however they encourage it by how they choose successful applicants.

After weeks of unsuccessful applications, honesty becomes secondary as renters begin to play the agent’s game. There are a loose set of unwritten rules that a renter must abide by in order to succeed in their application.

Renters need to provide ‘proof’ that they are in long-term employment, are earning a certain wage and have a rental history.

For many renters, these are difficult pieces of information to satisfy. Consequently, the web of lies is spun and fostered by both parties.

The irony of this is that agents know that most applications are full of lies, yet still offer their properties based on this false information.

If agents stopped rewarding fabricated applications and performed proper fact checking, perhaps the system would regain its credibility.

Until that day, Steve – and many others like him – will continue to play the agent’s game.

You would think honesty is the best policy when handing out the keys to a house.

But I guess a little white lie never really hurt anybody.

Tom Cowie is the editor of upstart.

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