Updated: Jun 13, 2020
A serial renter, sociologist by training and a progressive by heart, I moved to Sydney from Germany in 2006. Having grown up in a house with double glazing and underfloor heating I was ill prepared for my new life down under. I spent my first winter in front of the gas heater trying to warm my cold limbs.
Let’s get it straight – renting in Sydney is designed to be a punishment, a punishment for not buying into the Australian property dream in the 1990s.
As a tenant, you can be evicted for no reason, you will be tracked in dubious databases, you will be treated as a second class citizen by barely literate property managers and ‘mum & dad investor’ owners.
Landlords who feel entitled to use the shower in their rented out property on the way home from the gym. Imagine you suddenly find a naked man in your shower??
I know so many stories - from the owner keeping $700 of the bond for a small scratch on the wall, meaning the tenants can’t afford the bond for the next rental property, to landlords trying to make tenants pay for the damage the owners' themselves inflicted on the property. Not to mention the mind numbing haggling over repairs with property managers determined to shield their clients from pesky renters who only move at the speed of a snail when threatened with legal consequences.
While the percentage of people renting is increasing, we are still a minority. And we are meant to stay silent. Home ownership is Australia’s sacred cow. Add to that the rise of private property investment, the wealth creation miracle since the Howard era.
With more than a third of Members of Parliament owning an investment property (Source: Guardian), there is limited appetite on both sides of politics to make a real difference to tenants’ rights and housing affordability.
But it’s not just the rising cost of renting. Over the years I have become increasingly incensed by the lack of professional standards in the industry. We are paying premiums for substandard accommodation, and have to educate real estate agents and property owners on their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.
At the moment the systemic structures that prop up the property market are still holding strong and in favour of the owners. But long-term renting is becoming the norm, and it’s not just the poor and marginalized.
In a future where more people will be renting by choice, not necessity, we need to have a conversation that brings the tenants’ voice into the discussion.
In NSW we need better regulation to ensure privacy, stability and protection of tenants. In particular:
An end to no-ground evictions
Long term leases
Right to inspect the property a second time to check for defects
Right to make small modifications such as hanging a shelf or picture
Right to keep pets
A database for tenants to check on the financial viability of their future landlords
A more accessible complaint process to report dodgy property managers and agents
Minimum energy efficiency standards
Tenants are paying customers who have a right to be treated with respect. We need properties to be managed as a professional asset in a rule-based system. We also need to have a conversation about energy efficiencies and climate proofing rental properties. It’s time to give Sydney renters a voice!