Some troublemaker managed lead letter in the Sydney Morning Herald today.
As the debate about housing affordability continues, I would like to see more discussion of the attitude towards renters.
It’s like a dirty secret in which we are all complicit. Once we’ve got our own patch, we seem happy to forget about the miseries of renting. There are no substantive policies or meaningful law reform. With renting recognised as the only option available to many over a lifetime, the time to act is now.
Renters are treated like second-class citizens by agents and owners alike. While there are clearly many fair landlords, and real estate agents, we see this as good fortune, rather than a right to expect. I was a good tenant: paid rent on time, looked after the places I’ve occupied, got on with the neighbours and still had humiliating battles to get my bond back.
Managing rental properties would be the lowest rung of real estate business and it seems to fall to the most junior staff. Determining the quality of our steam cleaning was often in the hands of a 20-year-old trainee. As I was young, too, this was merely galling. It must be excruciating for older renters.
Dealing directly with an owner is usually worse. One, when asked to fix the hot water service, launched into a tale of his kitchen renovation woes. Tell someone who cares. Learn a little about your responsibilities.
In a friend’s case, the bond was put into the owner’s business, and had to be paid back in instalments. Just weeks ago, someone else I know had an owner change his mind and tell him to move out just days after he’d moved in. With no lease signed at that point, what was he to do? Although I hear good things about the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal, it is still a fight that many don’t have the stomach for.
Renting hinges on a relationship that is fundamentally unequal and is founded on private return to the owner. The expectations of the tenants and their ability to plan and live their lives come a distant second.
Why can a business enjoy a five-year lease, with an option to extend, but the shelter which people need to live can be removed with minimal notice? Until this is addressed, nobody will see renting as an alternative to home ownership.
Kudos to J! It’s the biggest day in letter-writing in our house since J got lead letter, and 2 of the 3 other letters on the same topic were from friends of ours too.
I have vivid memories of talking to our landlord of yore about how we were tired of waiting for some long lost blue-collar member of his family to clear up some time to come fix our hot water service. Two days without hot water in winter would usually constitute a need for “emergency plumbing.” He began to tell me about how his family suffered when they were renovating their bathroom (not the kitchen as stated above — oops). I objected, saying that if we had rented through an agent, or any other landlord we would have at least seen a plumber by now. “Are you implying I’m not a good landlord?” he said. “I’m not implying anything. I’m telling you you’re a bad landlord.”
That felt good, and later that day we had working hot water again. We were informed that our rent was increasing soon after.