Renting? That’s what people do between having a house and drawing eyebrows on the dog

When the family decided it was time for a major renovation at home, Michael Blucher discovered a whole new world while attempting to snag a rental in Brisbane.

Feb 16, 2024, updated Feb 16, 2024

A few months back, while taking the dogs on their biannual walk, I happened upon a heaving mass of humanity, milling around a non-descript brown brick building in Brisbane’s inner west.

Curious, I yanked Dumb and Dumber to a halt to find out what all the fuss was about.

“Are the Beatles back in town?” I asked a young bloke, standing, staring at his phone, while his girlfriend did the same.

He was probably 30 years too young to fully appreciate what I was angling at, but he took a punt and explained it was a rental inspection. Two bedroom, two bathroom unit, reasonably priced, convenient location – why wouldn’t there be 200 people looking at it? Even the uninhabitable joints get 100, he explained.

On the way home, I remember thinking… thank goodness that stage of life is behind us…I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to re-enter that rat race.

Come the dawning of the new year, here we are, back in the said rental rat race, looking for a place to stay while we renovate our own uninhabitable joint – the million dollar plus-property with the $28 kitchen.

I’ve got to say, it’s not as easy as last time I rented – London 1986 – a dodgy garden flat in West Kensington, two tiny bedrooms, one we called “the cell” on account of it not having any windows.

These days renting is a process, a very, very painful process, where you’re forced to lay yourself bare, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and of course financially, in the hope that some 26 year-old property manager with questionable qualifications deems you fit to advance to the next stage of vetting.

I’ve not applied to study at Harvard Business School, but I can’t imagine it could be any more difficult than trying to rent a four bedroom house in Brisbane for six months.

Right now, there’s more than a dozen 20 or 30 something year-old property managers with questionable qualifications who know more about my family and my financial situation than my mother.

Passport, driver’s licence, marriage certificate, tax records, bank statements, car registration plates, character references, employment history – they’ve got the lot – everything bar a copy of my old Blockbuster Video membership card.

We’ve even been required to upload photographs of Dumb and Dumber – I couldn’t resist the temptation to include the photo where the kids had drawn eye brows on Dumb. Childish, I know but take the small private victories when you can.

So far, none of our eight applications have been accepted, despite offering to pay the full six months rent in advance. We’ve been told we’ve “been close” a couple of times, without explanation of exactly what that means. Down to the last 10? Perhaps they didn’t like the look of the dog with the eye brows?

Perhaps it’s the absence of rental references – I tried to explain, having not rented since 1986, that cupboard was a little bare. I could have tried to put the agents in contact with Mrs Pemberthy, our landlord at West Kensington Gardens, but a rough calculation has her current age at 114. Best case scenario, I’m not even sure she’d remember me. Bar the Xmas turkey incident, we were model tenants. Surprising in itself.

I get that the property managers have to be careful, and to be fair, we’ve encountered a couple of good ones, upfront and honest, as they tackle the difficult task of sorting the wheat from the chaff. And clearly, they can’t just hand over people’s valuable property to anybody, but that doesn’t explain how so many landlords still finish up with makeshift meth labs in the accommodation they offer up to the rental pool.

It’s happened to at least three people I know, and do you reckon the property managers with questionable qualifications can evict them? Not on your life, at least not without a hell of a fight.

Another friend had a mother /daughter tenant team running a prostitution racket out of his joint, while over on the southside, some international tenants had converted their spare bedroom into a chicken pen. I wonder if they had to upload photographs of their “pets”, prior to signing the lease? I’m guessing no.

At the risk of being a little precious, a little pious, is there any chance the screening process needs a little tweaking? Could we be chasing the ants while the elephants are getting away? It seems on more than the odd occasion, the innocent are being found guilty with insufficient evidence, and the guilty are getting away with blue murder.

A big part of the problem of course is supply and demand – simply not enough housing to go around.

While panicky state politicians toy with the fanciful idea of rent freezes, what we really should be addressing is the role all levels of government play in the constipation of the housing sector. Projects big, small, old, new, planned, abandoned and reworked (over and over again) all suffer more than ever before from bureaucratic heavy handedness.

From the simple extension of a suburban back deck, right through to the largest of large scale land subdivisions – the jumping through hoops remains the same. Frustrating, costly, time consuming and at some many levels, unnecessary. Once again, cue Tony from the NBA – we are living on the set of Utopia.

A bit like health, housing should have special dispensation. Let the rubber stamping, paper shuffling public servants keep their jobs – just move them away from doctors and builders, into civic realms less critical, less reliant on rapid progress and clear decision making.

During times of Covid-induced uncertainty, there were countless examples of how quickly governments could act when they absolutely had to do. A lawyer mate who does some contract work for the State Government was getting his invoices paid overnight – in healthier times, they normally took six weeks to be processed.

Imagine if the same urgency was applied to building and health?

OK – end of rant.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to filling out rental applications. Granted, I’m getting more efficient, now that I have the battery of requisite information at the ready.

But I might take some new photographs of Dumb and Dumber.

The deeper I go into this interim accommodation jungle, the more I’m convinced, it’s the dog’s eyebrows that are raising eyebrows.




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