For years we’ve heard about poor defenceless tenants and evil landlords, often framed in some Dickensian manner that offends our national sense of fairness. “These are our homes,” the tenants cry and the landlords respond: “These are our houses”.
Surely there must be a right and wrong here, some great moral guide to illuminate our dim understanding. But sadly, there’s not. Both sides are absolutely correct and it is this tension between the two that is the subject of Emma Horn’s story.
The landlords do have a point when they claim it’s their property. They’re the ones who worked hard, or borrowed money from those who worked hard, to be able to afford a piece of real estate. They’re the ones with all the risk when it comes to property damage, because there’s no way a four-week bond will cover some of the insane stunts particularly pesky tenants get up to. But then again, are they buying a property for the purposes of providing housing, or simply as an investment? Because these are two very different motivations.
The tenants, then, also have a valid point to make. They’re paying hundreds of dollars a week to live in a house that they make their home. That’s not an inconsequential point, actually. For a family paying $350 per week in Wagga, that’s $18,200 every year. Surely for that amount of money you get the right to hang a photo, or get the kids a puppy, or live without constant fear of being turfed out on a whim.
Consider the case of a Melbourne woman who earlier this year was told she had to move out in 60 days because the landlord’s great-grandson needed somewhere to live. Is it reasonable for a landlord to expect someone to upend their life and go through the cost and hassle of moving simply because it suits them?
Sadly, these “no grounds” evictions remain a real threat for Australian renters, even though many other countries outlawed them years ago. Across Europe, the attitude seems to be that the person paying money to live in the house has the rights, but we’re still in “property investing” mode.
The NSW government’s rental reforms are expected to ignore the “no grounds” problem, but with a growing number of voters becoming lifelong tenants, it can’t be long before the pendulum swings back the other way.
There is a clear need to do something, but just what that something should be remains open to interpretation.