lifestyle

This is the reality of raising your family in a rental property in Australia.

This is my reality of renting.

We rent our home. It’s not going to change for the foreseeable future and frankly, it sucks. Don’t get me wrong, it also has a positive side but these days I find it hard to remember what that is. I’m sure it will come to me at some point.

I have been paying rent since I was 18 years old. So I’m pretty well versed, at 33, in all the less than delightful aspects of being a tenant.

The first craptastic part to renting is finding a suitable place to rent. It used to be a bit of a smorgasbord- loads of places to choose from. Now, Sydney seems to have a scarcity of rental properties and the ones that are available are charged at a premium. You have to go to an open house with 35 other desperate families where you smile and nod at one another, while hoping they don’t get the place and you do- provided it’s not some godawful place with a toilet in the kitchen. Unless that’s all that’s available in which case, you and the 35 other families embark on a Hunger Games style battle to prove to the property manager that you are the most worthy tribute to the house with its gloriously convenient kitchen-toilet.

Once all prospective tenants have fought to the death in the (probably very overgrown and weed-choked) back garden and you have emerged the victor, you get the dubious joy of the Inspection Report to contend with. This is where the disinterested real estate property manager has listed all the parts of your new rental home that are broken, damaged, dirty, worn or in some other way crappily outstanding. You then get to go through it, disagree and try to fit your reason in a box that was clearly designed for show only and not actual use. For example, in a previous house I had to explain that the kitchen cupboard shelves were not in good repair at all and were, in fact, being held together with surgical dressing tape. As were the canvas outdoor blinds. In fact, most of that house was held together with surgical tape. I’m not sure why but I can tell you that surgical tape is pretty ordinary at holding bits of house together.

Before you move in, you also have the fun task of cleaning all the things the last tenant didn’t clean. Awesome stuff like showers clogged with the hair of strangers or cockroaches desiccating within light fixtures. One property I moved into years ago came with a free mega-sized flea circus. Only without the actual circus bit- just the cast and crew, if you know what I mean.

Once you’ve dealt with all those bits, you have the Tetris-esque joy of fitting all your furniture into a house that was not considered when you acquired said furniture. In our last house, we had to take the laundry door off to get the (standard sized) washing machine into the laundry and had to remove the hinge covers on top of the fridge to get it into the fridge space. After that, we could only open the cupboard above the fridge space if we opened the freezer first. Naturally.

ADVERTISEMENT
When you rent, your whole life is basically tetris.

Once you’ve got all your stuff in, you get to look around at walls painted a colour you didn’t choose. In fact, nothing about the place was chosen by you which means you’re often living with stuff that’s not your taste. For example, I’m on my second, consecutive, bright mustard-yellow kitchen and my shower screens in both bathrooms have previously living creatures and plants embedded in them. I like a more minimalist look, personally. One where there are minimal dead things in my decor. The fewer the better. That’s just my personal taste, you know? Instead, each day I get to experience showering while dead sea life looks on- it’s like bathing in a demented Octopus’ Garden.

In my actual shower screen.

After a few months, the periodic inspections begin. This is where you have to let a stranger walk through and judge all your stuff and make sure you aren’t wrecking the place around four times a year. A few years back we had some trouble with an agent who didn’t seem familiar with the idea of giving notice for such inspections and rang wanting to come through the next day. Apparently I was “being difficult” when I explained that I was working a 12 hour shift that night and would be asleep all the next day before doing another 12 hour night shift. My desire to not have strangers through my house while I slept was evidence of me being “unreasonable”. My request for written notice in line with my legal rights was me being “fussy”. This was from the same property manager who also declined our request to have a window repaired. It had been modified so that it was permanently open in our bedroom and when winter hit, it was freezing. We were told that it wasn’t a necessary repair and that we could take it to the renter’s tribunal and see what they said.

As a tenant, I can tell you that I have never taken a landlord to the tribunal to get a repair done for one simple reason- Fear. Fear that they won’t renew our lease when the time comes. It’s not like they’d have any trouble replacing us.

And don’t even start me on actual repair work. In two separate houses now, I have let the agent know about plumbing problems. Mysteriously flooding driveways in one, a poorly draining sink and bathtub in the other (and it would do a weird thing where draining the bathtub made water shoot out of the sink- something I was informed was impossible but that I saw with my own eyes- a plumbing miracle, perhaps?). Both of these scenarios were given “band-aid” repairs several times over. A bucket of Drain-o here, a bucket of Drain-o there and we were considered good to go. Both times led to a collapsed pipe followed by the extremely unwelcome eruption of a sewerage-filled volcano in my front yard. I wish I could tell you I was joking. This. Has. Happened. Twice.

Just like this one, only replace the fire with poop.

Generally speaking, we are pretty good tenants. We always pay our rent and bills. We take care of our places. We let the agent know about any problems and we are pretty patient when stuff needs to be done. We don’t expect a great deal and are pretty accommodating. Once, we lived in a townhouse with a decorative trellis type thing attached to the front. It was slowly disintegrating and we, of course, let the property manager know.

ADVERTISEMENT

This photo was taken the day before it completely collapsed, leaving a tangled mess of rotted wood and rusted nails in our front yard. Luckily, no one was under it when it went down. It stayed there in a mangled lump complete with pointy bits for days before they sent someone to remove it. But we still didn’t kick up a fuss, because hey! we are good, chilled, easygoing tenants!

See the beam closest to the house? It should NOT be at that angle!

In the same place, I accidentally scorched the vanity unit with my hair straightener. It left a small brown mark. I felt terrible and let the property manager know straight away. She said not to worry about it but when it came time to leave, many months later, they tried to get us to pay several hundred dollars for an entirely new vanity unit- not just a sink top but new cupboard unit to go underneath as well. We had to fight and of course weren’t made to comply but it goes to show that even being an easygoing tenant doesn’t always pay off- sometimes landlords will just try to take advantage of that. (To be clear, I was happy to compensate- I did cause some (albeit minor) damage- but the vanity was still entirely functional and the tiny scorch on top had no effect at all on the cupboards!)

As you can probably tell, I’m not thrilled about renting, but buying isn’t on the cards at all, even though home ownership is apparently the Great Australian Dream. You see, I live in a very average suburb. Nowhere fancy. Yet buying a house here would set me back close to a million dollars and that’s for a house that probably still wouldn’t be big enough. Even if I could save the $100k or whatever it is I’d need for a deposit (I absolutely can’t because these pesky children insist on being fed and clothed, selfish little creatures!) , I do not want to borrow the rest to cover the house price and all the associated costs. I just can’t imagine owing that much money to the bank. In a way, it is just as uncertain as renting because a mortgage that size would cost more than double what we pay in rent. So while we wouldn’t have to worry about the whims of a landlord (admittedly, the current one seems pretty good so far), we’d have to pour everything we earned into the house payments (it wouldn’t be enough) and forget about actually enjoying life. Or, you know, having electricity and food and other luxuries like that.

So in the meantime, rent it is. At least we can afford a lotto ticket every now and then!

Now, let’s take a moment to indulge in the monstrosities that are celebrity homes. 

This piece was originally published on Handbag Mafia.

Amy Ahearn flings her thoughts at the internet via her blog, handbagmafia.net, while juggling life as a mother, a step-mother, a shift-worker and food enthusiast.

You can find Amy on Facebook and Twitter.

What’s your experience of renting? 

For more on the housing situation in Australia..

The best Internet responses to Joe Hockey’s advice for young people.

The 7 emotional stages of buying a new house.

Joe Hockey: “Get a good job that pays good money.”

00:00 / ???