The last time I shared anything on my WordPress blog was in August 2016. Scheduled art posts aside, I can’t believe it’s been that long. As I mentioned then, we were evicted from our house. I don’t know what the rental laws are like in other parts of the world – I’ve heard that parts of Europe tends to be a lot more protective of tenants’ rights – but here in Victoria, Australia, they’re pretty awful. It was only in the last couple of months that the Victorian Supreme Court made the decision that properties must be maintained in a liveable condition. That’s right, up until very recently, landlords were allowed to rent dangerous, derelict properties to tenants. It took a woman from a low socio-economic bracket and her Legal Aid lawyer (Legal Aid being a free legal service for poor people who need access to assistance) to fight the monster that is rental laws in our state, and I thank God for her willingness to take this fight to the highest levels. Someone had to.
Anyway, we were evicted (given 60 days’ notice) because the owners suddenly wanted to move back into the house and subdivide it (build a second house on the land). My husband’s German workmates were appalled that tenants in Victoria can lose their home over something as vague as a landlord having a change of heart. A Swedish “pen pal” (they’re still pen pals even if it’s just via social media, right?!) likewise told me she couldn’t believe that tenancy laws were so cruel here. That is, in at least some parts of Europe where renting is considered normal, apparently people are not punished for being tenants. [1, 2] In Australia, there is an atmosphere of ‘us versus them’ when it comes to the attitudes of landlords and their tenants. The notion is that if you have a job and work hard you’ll be wealthy; if you’re poor, it’s because you’re a ‘bludger’. It’s a very simplistic, mindlessly capitalist way of looking at the world but unfortunately holds a lot of sway in Australia’s current political climate.
It’s not always the case, of course, that landlords act like tenants are less than animals, and I’m happy to say that so far our new landlords seem very professional and forwards-thinking – they installed an air conditioner before we moved in, which tells me that they actually care about our comfort levels. And let’s face it, in a part of the world where summers reach 40°C-49°C [104°F-120.2°F], it makes good investment sense. This house is not very well insulated and we aren’t likely to stay long in their investment property if summers become unlivable. (I’ve written elsewhere about the problems with housing design in relation to the Australian climate, another one of those many areas where in my opinion we really ought to look at how European countries manage the same issues!)
In the end, we did get a house. It was fraught with uncertainty and several rejected applications with very little feedback as to why tenants with a very positive rental history of paid bills and returned bonds would be knocked back.
I will spare the details of my convulsive sobbing on the phone every time an agent called to tell us another application was rejected. And how there was a house we were certain we would get – until the owner had a sudden change of heart because she doesn’t like cats. Let me make this clear: this is a foreign investor, who lives in Sri Lanka, who will at no point whatsoever have to enter the property. But her hatred for cats stretches across the seas and, well, I drive past that house everyday on the way to my daughter’s school now and I see it’s still vacant. I have no sympathy for their loss of income on the investment. And another thing: this particular drama could’ve been prevented if they had advertised it as a “no pets” property. Easy. We wouldn’t have wasted our time.
Oh, and on a related note, cheers to all the foreign investors buying up Aussie properties, inflating the prices, attaching weird conditions to the tenancy contracts (like a hatred for cats), no doubt owning a large proportion of the estimated 80,000+ vacant investment houses and apartments in Melbourne alone while at last count 105,237 Australians were homeless. In fact, the house we got is one of the few we applied for owned by local landlords. [3, 4, 5]
However, the agent who had to tell us we weren’t welcome with our cats was spectacularly apologetic – she said we’d had a flawless character reference from our previous agent – and I noticed at the time that they had a house on the same street still advertised as available. I asked, she called the owners, and half an hour later we were told to come in to sign the papers.
My head was reeling through all this. We packed our entire lives and moved in the space of about a week. We had another week to clean the old property. The kids still had to get to school everyday, so most of the time I was on my own with my cats and my tears saying farewell to the house. We may not have liked the landlords but I loved that house, flaws and all, its big garden, its view of the mountains, the sunshine pouring in through the bedroom windows every morning, and the way it became a space that freed us from many of the burdens in our life.
The house we got in the end was one of the first we looked at. At that time we had passed it over: despite the perfect location, all of 30 seconds’ walking distance from my son’s school, decent size and well-maintained appearance, it was AUD$90 (approx. USD$69-$70) per week more than we paid for our previous house. That was a lot to ask and we weren’t then convinced that it was a fair amount to ask for a house with no dishwasher. I had largely dismissed that house from my mind and couldn’t remember a thing about it, except that it had a brown 1970s bar in the loungeroom and a whole lot of ivy on the fence. I’m allergic to some types of ivy so that was definitely a turn-off.
Fast forward to October. We had a little drama and a lot of stress getting the bond back from our last house but after some arguing over it, the owners never formally contested it, they took longer than the legally allowable time frame, and the head property manager returned it to us in full. As she had said she would all along. Reading between the lines, it seemed like she was angry her co-workers had entertained the owners’ attempts to get a little extra cash from us.
We now live in a lovely, much more spacious than I expected three-bedroom house set between schools and a retirement village. The neighbourhood is very quiet. The neighbours are just as reclusive as us, praise Jesus! In three weeks living here I’ve only spoken to one local. Just one. It bodes well for this introvert. My son’s school (and as of the start of next term it will also be my daughter’s school) is so close that I can see the entrance to the school cricket oval just outside my front window. He said he can see our house from his maths classroom and access the home wi-fi from the edge of the school! We might need to reduce the range of the wi-fi, I have visions of him spending his entire high school life catching Pokémon… The big regional shopping centre is so close that last weekend we walked there for a coffee. There is a massive National Park I’ve never heard of before about ten minutes’ drive from our place, with a spectacularly beautiful creek side walking track set in the grounds of an historical 19th century vineyard. The Husband discovered it on a bike ride and insisted we go bushwalking there. Sure, we have no dishwasher but the view from the kitchen sink stretches across the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. There are so many birds and trees here, I can hardly believe it. Because all of the neighbourhood is basically school kids and elderly retired folks it feels very quiet and safe. It’s reduced The Husband’s daily commute by about half an hour. It’s reduced my daily commute a lot, too, as we are now in the same neighbourhood as the kids’ piano and ballet lessons. My son’s church – my former church – is a lot closer, too. So when he’s rostered on for volunteer duty it’s a lot quicker getting to-and-from the church. It’s halved the distance to swimming lessons, too.
At first I didn’t like the place but I’m definitely warming up to it. It’s light, clean, and I couldn’t ask for a better location (except, perhaps, moving back to rural Victoria).
Now we’re mostly unpacked and the school holidays are over, I am starting to get my life back into a routine. My mental health is slowly improving though I am back to more frequent monthly visits with the psych as the last few months so drained me I wasn’t recovering from bouts of anxiety as quickly as I can when I’m healthy.
I’m now sitting at the computer, enjoying the view of the back pergola and the garden full of tall flowering camellias in hues of pink and red, and a tree my mother tells me is called sweet pittosporum (which is considered a damaging environmental weed, unfortunately, but it’s a very pretty tree). I have a framed picture of the Most Interesting Man in the World meme wearing a Darth Vader mask. I’ve printed out and hung up Kylux-themed art I found on tumblr (Star Wars: The Force Awakens fan art implying a secret romantic relationship between General Hux and Kylo Ren… Don’t judge me! Also be aware that if you click the link there are some adult themes – it is tumblr, after all). The bar is now home to my art supplies – I couldn’t justify using such a large space for the one bottle of South Australian wine and six-pack of ale I had in the pantry. I’ve even had my first visitors to the house. Sure, they had to wade through piles of moving boxes but they were all nice about it.
Overall, things seem to have turned out a lot better than I could’ve reasonably hoped. For all the dramas, when I look at the struggling families who had to settle for the cheaper, decrepit houses, I appreciate that I’m in a fairly privileged position where as hard as it is we could afford the pricier type of well-maintained rental. The agents are different, too – rather than treating us like scum of the earth povs who deserve to be poor (which in my experience is how agents typically treat tenants), they’re so far treating us like paying customers. About time.
IN OTHER NEWS
- Today’s the day for announcing one’s NaNoWriMo novel for November 2016. What with the whole moving house deal I didn’t have the time to work on a plan. But I really wanted to add my novel for the year, so I came up with a hasty title. Planning starts as soon as I post this blog update.
- Australia is experiencing crazy, unprecedented storm conditions, something that was predicted by climate change modelling. Somehow the conservative coal-eating government still managed to blame a climate change-caused cyclone-type storm and subsequent power outage on renewable energy. That’s right, let’s all blame the wind turbines and solar panels for the fact that the power went out when a whole heap of power pylons collapsed. If they’re going to ask any questions, they should be asking why the pylons fell over in bad weather! When I lived just near the Hazelwood coal power plant in Churchill, Victoria, we often had power outages, yet no one thought to blame the fact that it was a coal-based electricity system. Science education is pretty pathetic in Australia if so many people can say with a straight face that there’s a difference between they ways coal and solar electricity flow through the wires. I studied climate change political discourse as the central subject of my honours research back in my uni days, and it blows my mind that people still grasp the old conspiracy theories. Maybe they’re too scared to consider the possibility that the human species can cause such devastation? Whatever it is, while a number of people around me resort to convoluted conspiracy theories about secret societies controlling us, it’d just be super nice if they could at least try to understand climate science before blaming it on the Illuminati and the lizard people.
- I’ve started Open Universities Australia’s Marine Science course. Again. Hopefully I finish it this time. What I’ve learned so far is super interesting.
- As always, thank you to my wonderful customers who support me by buying products from my RedBubble Portfolio. I have uploaded drawing and print designs to a range of different styles of t-shirts, art prints, greeting cards, cases and skins for various electronic devices, travel mugs and so much more. It’s so encouraging and exciting to get emails from RedBubble letting me know that people appreciate my drawings so much they want to own them!
- I accidentally became obsessively interested in Formula One. I have always liked it, and always enjoyed watching it. When F1 first came to Melbourne, Australia, in the 1990s, I cut pictures of the race from the newspaper and stuck them in my scrapbooks I normally reserved for horse racing (which I no longer follow out of concerns for animal welfare). This year I decided to watch the F1 races more regularly. Next thing I knew, I was following most of the drivers on Instagram, I know their names, the names of their wives, their kids’ names, what they eat for breakfast, etc. It’s so weird.