I have a 27 year rental career. In that time, I’ve lived in 14 rental houses or units in two States of Australia, in cities and rural locations.
I’ve dressed up to make a good impression and joined with large groups of other prospective tenants to view a property. I’ve competed hard to ensure that I get the property over others, because that’s how it works. I’ve also lost out in bidding wars when an agent accepts offers of higher rent, even though this is illegal.
I’ve photocopied endless numbers of identification documents, imposed on friends and colleagues to be referees and waited with a sick stomach to hear if I’ve been successful in securing a house. I’ve been at risk of homelessness if the timing between leaving one property and securing another doesn’t come off right.
I’ve spent thousands in double rent and borrowed the same to come up with Bond because agents won’t transfer bonds even though there is a system set up to do this.
I’ve schmoozed, crawled and on a few occasions, begged a real estate agent to have my basic rights as a tenant upheld.
I’ve had the back yards of two houses I’ve rented bulldozed while I’ve lived there. I’ve had owners who turn up again and again without giving the proper notice and I’ve given them entry to the premises to keep them on side. I’ve had windows that won’t open or close, doors that don’t function and lived without a stove for weeks waiting for repairs.
I’ve lived through chronic mould, holes and leaks in roofs, dead animals trapped in walls, showers that don’t work, and scores of other problems that don’t get resolved. I’ve been told I must live through roof replacements, wall replacements and had countless other infringements on my rights to exclusive use of the property. I’ve spent many nights after moving day on my hands and knees scrubbing walls and floors to make sure I get my bond back.
In 27 years, I’ve never breeched an owner or real estate and I’ve always gotten my Bond back in full. I’ve worked hard to be a good tenant. Despite an excellent income, solid professional and personal references and no history of any rental mishaps, my family and I are still shafted. Despite legislation and support lines and dispute processes, here I am waiting again, in another mould riddled house with a section of back fence missing and a gutter with sharp rusted bits falling off randomly.
And here I am again waiting for agents to respond to emails, to return calls, to follow up on offers made by an owner and later rescinded and all the while I am paying a huge chunk of my income for the privilege.
I have grounds to breach this real estate and owner. But they hold all the power. If I breach, they can shaft me when I finally leave. They can make it hard to get another rental property by bad mouthing me to future agents or putting my name on the dreaded Rental baddies database, meaning I’ll never get another lease again.
Where has being a model tenant for nearly three decades got me? Nowhere good.
In that time, I’ve had just one real estate agent that I would count as someone who advocated for tenants. I felt like crying the day she left to work somewhere else because I knew the odds were that the next one would likely be mean. The overwhelming majority of agents represent the needs of the owner and think little about the people paying that owner’s mortgage.
Legislation hasn’t helped the growing number of people who spend their lifetimes renting. It doesn’t make us feel safe or confident. It doesn’t protect us from the many ways that agents and owners can shaft us.
Here I am after 27 years of renting, spending days feeling sick, waiting to hear from another agent so that I can determine whether $500 rent a week will buy me decent living conditions and some respect. I suspect that my email pleas for a speedy response and attempts to explain the discomfort of not knowing where my family will live in the near future are met with annoyance and contempt. I suspect they move about their day oblivious to the stomach cramps that are beginning to bite as stress takes a firm hold of my life.
I don’t want to be nice anymore. Nice hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Nice got me shafted.
As our country’s percentage of people who will spent their lives renting grows, something needs to be done about the huge power imbalance between those who own (often as a result of having family help them with a first deposit) and those that can’t.
We are rental scum. Our rights are trampled. We are a generation of people being shafted. And I am sick of taking it.