Renters with disability face severe shortage of accessible homes

Disabled and elderly tenants have been forced to live in unsuitable homes where they can’t shower or access bedrooms as Sydney grapples with one of the worst rental housing shortages in years.

With vacancies plummeting and rents soaring, there have been reports of renters in wheelchairs having to climb stairs on their hands to get to upstairs rooms because they cannot find rental homes with adequate disability access.

Others were sleeping in living rooms or finding alternative means to clean themselves because of the limited facilities for people with disabilities.

A survey conducted by the Physical Disability Council of NSW (PDCN) found renters with limited mobility struggled to gain consent from landlords for much needed modifications.

Renter Case Study

Sydney renter Jacob Darkin is calling for greater standards in accessibility. Picture: Tim Hunter.


While the National Construction Code was updated to incorporate basic accessibility standards across all new buildings in April last year, NSW hasn’t adopted the door requirements, which include wider internal frames, accessible showers and a toilet on the entry level.

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The state-based PDCN survey found the majority of renters and homeowners rated their homes as only partially accessible, with more than 40 percent needing to move.

Close to half had paid for housing modifications with their own money, despite 59 per cent being NDIS participants and 13 per cent being eligible for Aged Care Packages.

It comes as the number of vacant properties across Sydney, including all categories of housing, halved over the past year to just 11,000, while rents soared 20 per cent, according to SQM Research.

Disability woman using laptop working at home

NSWW hasn’t adopted the accessibility recommendations under the updated National Construction Code.


Rising property prices have also led to an aging renter demographic at risk.

The ABS says, on average, Australians over 65 can expect to live half their remaining years with some form of disability.

About one fifth of NSW residents were estimated to live with disability.

PDCN CEO Hayley Stone said tenants were forced to restrict the use of their properties if they could not afford to fund modifications or access the NDIS.

“We’re hearing stories of people having to make do with washing through alternative means, or having to manage staircases by getting out of their wheelchair and getting their way up,” Ms Stone said.

Wheelchair-bound woman faces inaccessible stairs.  Civil rights.

Level entry into the home is one of the requirements set out in the code.


She said in some situations where the tenant or NDIS had funded modifications, landlords were able to charge higher rent to the next tenant by marketing the property as accessible.

National Disability Council Director Jess Inder said this was common practice.

“Providers usually offer an increased rent to the landlord in order to secure the property,” Ms Inder said. “It is possible to also use the modifications as a value add for long-term gain.”

A spokesman from the NDIA, the agency that implements the NDIS, said complex modifications required an intention for the tenant to remain in the home for at least one year but that it considered further support if the tenant was forced to move.

Nurse holding hand of senior woman in pension home

Aging renters are also at risk.


Sydney renter Jacob Darkin, who has a spinal chord injury, said trying to find accessible housing was stressful.

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“I have friends who have needed purpose built showers and when they moved out they had to pay for the replacement to put it back,” he said. “Every new building needs to fit some form of accessibility as a minimum.”

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