Saturday, 24 March 2012

Renters' Rights

Despite the rental house we moved into recently being virtually new (or perhaps because of it?), we’ve been managing a long list of faults with the place. To name a few, we have lights that won’t light up (replacing the bulbs didn’t help), water leaking to the kitchen through the kitchen extractor fan (to nicely splash across electric kitchen appliances), and the likely possibility of having something very alive living inside our roof (probably a possum, potentially rats).
Now, if this property that we are living in was mine, I would have treated each and every one of these issues as quickly as possible. It’s the right thing to do for one’s health as well as one wallet, because things like water coming into the house can quickly escalate into major damage while animals can nibble their way through surprising niches. My record is clear on such matters: to give but one example, when we first bought our house I had a roof specialist over to perform all sorts of maintenance tasks that were in no way urgent but I considered essential if only to ensure we never have to climb up our roof during a stormy night.
Alas, we are not the masters of our current domains. Every problem we find is reported via email to our distinguished real estate agent, who – in the best of cases – forwards the news to the landlord. And that’s it, really: nothing seems to get done from that point onwards.
I have expressed my general opinion on real estate agents here before, and frankly this latest bout of incompetence does not lead me to go softer on them. As in, for someone whose job it is to manage properties, you would expect them to have a go at doing a decent job; or should you? I have recently asked for an update regarding the lighting problem we’ve reported more than a month ago. The agent’s reply? “Have you tried to change the bulbs?” Come on, can’t you even run a simple Excel sheet to track the issues in each of your properties? What is it that you actually do for your money?
I’ll tell you what it is the real estate agents do. As they self-proclaim, they “stand by the landlord”. The meaning of this slogan seems rather ambiguous at first, like all good slogans, but it became vividly clear to us since we’ve started renting a place to live at: it means the agent will do jack shit to help the tenants, because, let’s face it, once they’re in the contract there is no going back for them. The landlord, on the other hand, can always move to another real estate agency and remove an income stream from our beloved agent.
So what can we do to address the issues that bug us? I don’t really know. On one hand, we want to keep to the better side of our landlord: we know we are going to break our lease agreement, and we don’t want them to be [too] nasty to us when it happens. On the other hand, we are paying a lot of money to lease this property that we live in, and we expect to get something in return.
Thus far my strategy for handling the truly agonizing problems has been to nag the agent with daily emails and the occasional call. When that didn’t help I switched on to my Full Israeli mode and threw a very aggressive phone call in, the type that is generally unacceptable to pure blooded Aussies. During that phone call the agent surrendered the fact the landlord is obliged to sort out “urgent” problems within 14 days; the definition of “urgent” remained ambiguous, though. Yet it is exactly those non urgent issues that are bugging us now, the type of issues we can live with for a few days and even weeks but not months. There, in that department, we seem to be at the complete mercy of our agent and landlord. And that sucks!
My previously mentioned observation, stating that real estate ownership represents the class divide of Australian society, is getting firmer and firmer.

Image by cdsessums, Creative Commons license

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