Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Alan Morris, Chair Professor, University of Technology Sydney

A growing proportion of Australian households depend on the private rental sector for accommodation. This growth has occurred despite substantial insecurity of tenure under the law, unlike other countries with high private rental rates, such as Germany.

Our newly published research on the impacts of long-term or even lifelong insecurity on Australian private renters found their responses range from lack of concern to constant fear and anxiety.

So, how many people are affected? Back in the 1990s about one-fifth of us rented our homes from private landlords. Now this has swelled to more than one-quarter.

Historically, renting was usually a transitional step in the life cycle. Most people rented for a while and eventually bought a home.

While this housing pathway is still dominant, a growing number of Australians cannot make this transition. At least one in three private renters are long-term private renters (ten years or more). This equates to at least one in 12 households.

Australian households rent accommodation under a regulatory framework that provides little protection against landlord-instigated “forced moves” or untenable rent increases. The initial written agreement/lease rarely extends beyond a year. Once it ends, the tenancy typically shifts to a “periodic” basis, and notice to vacate can be given without reasons.

The period of notice ranges from 42 days to 26 weeks – depending on the state or territory. Thus, beyond the initial lease, all private tenants are subject under the law to ongoing insecurity.

Drawing on 60 in-depth interviews, we explored the impacts of this de jure housing insecurity on long-term private renters in different housing markets (low, medium and high rent, with 20 interviews in each) in Sydney and Melbourne. We identified three typical responses to ongoing insecurity:

  • incessant anxiety and fear;

  • lack of concern; and

  • concern offset to an extent by economic/social capital, with renting sometimes seen as the only means of living in a desired area.

We discuss these responses in turn.

Incessant anxiety and fear

For one group of interviewees, the insecurity was a persistent source of stress. They were constantly anxious about the possibility of being asked to leave their homes or incurring an untenable rent increase.

Low-income interviewees in the low-rent outer suburban areas had limited economic and sometimes social capital. A notice to vacate invariably caused great anxiety as they had minimal resources to find alternative accommodation.

Interviewees solely reliant on government benefits for their income were especially vulnerable. Frieda, 40, a single parent with five children, described her perceptions and experiences:

At any minute I can get the letter to say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve got to move’ … The last house before this one … was supposed to be a long-term but he decided to sell that house. And then we got [another] one … and then [the owners] wanted the house back … We got notice [to vacate] but [were] still trying to, you know, find somewhere … For a while there, I was thinking we’ll be out on the street.

Nigel, 35, lived alone in a low-rent area in outer western Sydney. He had been receiving workers’ compensation, but when interviewed relied entirely on Newstart for his income. He was confident that his landlord would not ask him to leave, but needed all his income to pay his rent. This was a source of intense insecurity and he was not coping.

I’m getting $661 a fortnight, my rent is $660 [a fortnight], so if it wasn’t for friends, you know … Stress is gone beyond a joke … You don’t know what you’re going to do the next day.

Christine, 57, also depended on Newstart for her income. She had lost her job a couple of years earlier after falling ill. Fear and anxiety were woven into her comments:

A renter – you’ve always got that fear that you’re not going to have a roof over your head … Yes, I’ve been here 16 years, but you never know. The house can be sold and new owners can say, ‘No, we want you to go.’ You don’t have money for a bond for another premises or, you know, Housing Department can’t help you because you’re not what they consider to be [in] an urgent, desperate situation.

Not a concern

At the opposite end of the spectrum were interviewees who had deliberately chosen long-term private renting and were unconcerned about the possibility of a landlord-instigated forced move. “Renters by choice” tended to be single people or couples without children who lived in high-rent areas. They usually had ample economic and social capital and saw the flexibility associated with renting as an advantage.

Sarah was living in a high-rent area in inner Melbourne:

And I do have enough money to buy quite a nice apartment, but I’d rather use the interest and the share money [dividends from shares] and stuff to travel.

Angela and her partner lived in the same area. They had no children and preferred not having a lease:

So the insecurity doesn’t bother me … It’s more to do with my freedom within that. It means that I can just leave whenever I want if I want to.

Astrid felt totally at ease with her long-term renter status in high-rent inner Sydney. In her late 30s and single, she had a reasonable income and strong social capital. She had rented for all her adult life:

It doesn’t bother me [being asked to vacate] … If they come and say they’re going to sell, well, there’s a reason. It was meant to be, so yeah … There’s always somewhere to stay. So it suits my lifestyle. I wouldn’t want to buy anything even if I had the money.

Moderate concern

Interviewees in high and medium-rent areas were typically in a different position to tenants in low-rent areas. Their economic capital enabled them to rent (but not buy) in an area with good public schools and amenities, and to move if need be.

However, they were reluctant long-term renters and troubled by their housing insecurity. This was especially so if they had school-going children.

Moira (high-rent area, Sydney), married with two children and in her mid-40s, was pleased with her rental situation. She paid an unusually low rent for her three-bedroom apartment. Alongside the area’s high-quality amenities, the quality of the public schools was a major drawcard.

However, the ever-present possibility of having to vacate was a concern:

The fact that you don’t know how long you’re going to be there for and, you know, that was a massive thing when we were choosing a school … If we have to move, are we going to be able to be within distance … to keep him there? … And it [the lack of security] is a cloud that’s there always.

The main reason Glenn and his partner rented a small semi-detached house in a high-rent area in Sydney was to ensure their son had a good schooling:

We need to stay in the area for our son and we balanced that against sending him to a private school, so in that way it’s cheaper to live here even though the rent’s high.

A crisis of affordability and insecurity

The interviews indicated that the de jure insecurity associated with private renting in Australia doesn’t necessarily translate into de facto insecurity.

However, for at least one in four of our interviewees, the chronic de jure insecurity associated with private renting imbued everyday life with ongoing anxiety and stress.

The intensifying crisis of rental affordability in Australia’s major cities means these negative outcomes of long-term private renting are likely to affect growing numbers in the years ahead.

* Pseudonyms are used to protect the confidentiality of survey respondents.

Authors: Alan Morris, Chair Professor, University of Technology Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-insecurity-of-private-renters-how-do-they-manage-it-77324

Writers Wanted

The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap

arrow_forward

After riots, Donald Trump leaves office with under 40% approval

arrow_forward

Five ways Australians can save the planet without lifting a finger (well, almost!)

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray.   HADLEY: I was just referring to this story from the Courier Mail, which you’ve probably caught up with today about t...

Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison - avatar Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison

Prime Minister's Remarks to Joint Party Room

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is great to be back in the party room, the joint party room. It’s great to have everybody back here. It’s great to officially welcome Garth who joins us. Welcome, Garth...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

7 foolproof tips for bidding successfully at a property auction

Auctions can be beneficial for prospective buyers, as they are transparent and fair. If you reach the limit you are willing to pay, you can simply walk away. Another benefit of an auction is tha...

Dominique Grubisa - avatar Dominique Grubisa

Getting Ready to Code? These Popular and Easy Programming Languages Can Get You Started

According to HOLP (History Encyclopedia of Programing Languages), there are more than 8,000 programming languages, some dating as far back as the 18th century. Although there might be as many pr...

News Co - avatar News Co

Avoid These Mistakes When Changing up Your Executive Career

Switching up industries is a valid move at any stage in your career, even if you’re an executive. Doing so at this stage can be a lot more intimidating, however, and it can be quite difficult know...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion