Rabu, 02 November 2011

Patronising the patrons

Ever wondered what it feels like to be regarded as purely second rate?

If you're among the one in four people in New South Wales living in rented accommodation, chances are you already know.

Not only may you have to endure the absurdity of a no-cause eviction without a right of reply - rendering your home unnecessarily insecure, and undermining the 'balance' between landlords and tenants that our current renting laws were supposed to achieve (we've talked about this many times before - see here, here and here) - but you will also, from time to time, come across standards of behaviour amongst the propertied 'elite' that will leave you in little doubt as to your apparent position in the Australian social hierarchy.

Examples of this phenomenon can be found all over the Brown Couch: wedged down the back of the seat, under the cushions, and scattered throughout the mass of well-thumbed tomes over there on the old pine coffee table... It's almost as though someone stuck a "kick me" sign to your back, just as you stooped forward to sign your latest residential tenancy agreement.

Here's another example of the sort of thing we're talking about, courtesy of a tenant on the NSW mid-north coast:

... and as it happens, this particular tenant wasn't even in arrears. They'd just missed a payment and were thus not the expected 14 days in advance. (Technically, any termination notice issued on that basis would be invalid - but of course that rarely stops it from happening.)

Many landlords, and the real estate agents who work for them, tend to lord it over their tenants. Quite simply, this is because they can. Indeed, our national obsession with wealth creation through property acquisition almost requires it - and our renting laws well and truly enable it. You see - for the time being at least - there's not the kind of money in rents that you can get from capital gains, and this means that when it comes to dabbling in real estate, tenants often just seem to be in the way... so naturally the law allows landlords to move them on without needing a reason.

But it runs deeper than that. Without the security of knowing that you can't lose your home without some kind of crisis attached to your own ability to pay for it, as a tenant you become accustomed to simply sucking up really shabby treatment. Property managers (be they DIY landlord or professional real estate agent) become just as accustomed to dishing it out. Because you don't really have a choice - they could just kick you out, and tell all their mates not to rent a place to you either.

They've got you over a barrel, and some of them just can't help but rub it in... This, we suspect, is why whenever asked whether we're renting or buying, tenants often sigh, "oh, we're just renting at the moment".

Okay, so the law has to change to ensure renting in New South Wales is not unnecessarily insecure. But more than that, we need to adjust the lens through which we see the landlord/tenant relationship. The tenant is, after all, the consumer of the landlord's (probably tax-payer subsidised and highly leveraged) 'housing service'. Without a tenant, most landlords would simply not be able to meet the monthly payment on the loan that's allowed them to buy the place to begin with. Yes, they might be in it for the capital gains, but they sure can't do it without cash-flow in the meantime.

Of course, potential new tenants are a dime a dozen at the moment, due to the unbearably high cost of buying property (we've talked about that plenty on the Brown Couch too) - so there's not a lot of 'consumer power' to be exercised on this side of the property divide. But that doesn't mean tenants should just put up with being treated like a lower class of idiot...

This is, after all, somebody's home we're talking about. Have another look at that letter above. Then ask yourself - what would you expect the bank to say to you if you were a day or two behind on the mortgage?