RAI Case Study | Affordability

Wendy Morris | Private Rental | Single Pensioner 

If you are the type of person who hates to move, then this story illustrates the insecurity many people face when renting in the private rental market, and why affordable, safe and secure rental properties are needed so people can create a home. 

Wendy Morris has moved eleven times in 23 years. And no, that is not a misprint. 

Shelter WA sought case studies to coincide with the release of the Rental Affordability Index (RAI). For Wendy, a single pensioner, the unaffordability of private rental housing has had a significant impact on her life. This is her private renting experience. 

Wendy Morris

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• Joondalup

Wendy moved from the country to Perth where she was working at a University Library in Joondalup. She took up a private rental property in the Perth suburb of Joondalup.

“When I first moved in the gardens were non-existent,” said Wendy.

“I got the lawn going again and I planted a few things, but after I had done all of this, they (the landlord) decided to lift the rent. At the time I was still paying a HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) debt off at that point and I was working but my job wasn’t secure, so it had become unaffordable for me to live there.”

Having to move from Joondalup was distressing for Wendy. She had moved many times before and the cost of moving both mentally, physically and financially were big issues for Wendy each time she moved. Thankfully Wendy found a more affordable option close by, but the experience annoyed her immensely.

“I had given a bit of time to making the place look a little brighter and more respectable than it was when I moved in and I kept it looking good inside,” she said.

It was a tricky situation for Wendy who had no guarantees on where her work was heading, she was only on a short contract, and as a single person with no other person to share the rent with she had no choice.

• Moving yet again

Affordability and security of tenure has been the main reason Wendy has moved so often. After leaving a family home due to a marriage breakdown she first rented a private rental flat in Bunbury. It was affordable and safe but sadly it was not secure as it came with no fixed term. After just nine months the landlord needed the flat for a family member, so Wendy had to move.

“Quite often with private rental I have found the landlord does not want to give you a lease agreement, they just want to have a casual thing,” explains Wendy.

This is the situation Wendy is in where she is currently living.

“I don’t have a rental agreement where I am at now, they could give me 30 days’ notice, so it is not secure,” she said. “It makes it very hard to get involved with the local community, so it affects your livelihood, and you don’t feel part of the community as you might need to leave suddenly at any point.

“Private rental as it is now, and how I have experienced it in the past, it’s a dicey sector to be involved in for a tenant, mainly because of the insecurity and affordability.”

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• Leaving a marriage

While for Wendy leaving her marriage was the right thing to do, it created a cycle of renting for her which was and is her only option.

“When I look back, I came away with barely any assets,” says Wendy. “I did not have a car, no furniture, or whitegoods when I first left. I was in my 40s when I left so there is not much chance of getting a loan or a mortgage at that stage. As I get older, I’m not sure what my story is for my housing.”

• The psychological costs of moving

Moving can be an exasperating process for anyone, but for Wendy it’s caused actual psychological distress.

“As you are getting older there is so much to do,” exclaims Wendy. “You have to notify this, that, and the other. Once I just collapsed. I had packed my books the night before and the next morning I couldn’t put my feet on the floor to get out of bed. I consider it (moving) a crisis in my life.”

With Wendy having to move so many times she has moved away from close friends, this means there is nobody to assist Wendy with moving or to provide a comforting ear when times get tough.

• Private vs Public housing

There was a time when Wendy was considering public housing, but she was deterred by the perception public housing has in the community.

“I know that the tenure in public housing is more secure, but unfortunately I’ve heard some awful stories which has made me wary.” Wendy said.

“Private rental while not secure, gave me the choice of suburb. However, you do take a risk with private rental, as there are no minimum standards for people who let out a place. You can let out anything and nobody inspects the property to really make sure it is liveable. Maintenance can sometimes be difficult to arrange even though it’s part of the regulatory requirements.

“I believe one of the things that needs to be done is to set minimum standards for landlords who are renting.”

• The fence that fell

At one of her private rentals Wendy once had a fence blow down during a storm. What seemed like an easy fix took over two months before something was done.

At her wits end, Wendy approached Legal Aid.

“I explained to them the situation and they suggested I send my landlord a breach order,” said Wendy. “As soon as I did this it was fixed straight away, but the worry is, does the landlord think you are now a troublemaker?”

• Wendy now

While Wendy has had her fair share of awful experiences from renting privately, she is happy where she currently lives. Although she could be served with a notice to move in 30 days at any time, as she’s on a periodic lease, she has a good relationship with her current landlord.

If you are a landlord, you can make a difference. You can make renting a better experience for people like Wendy by providing a secure, long term lease, responding to maintenance in a timely way and consider how the improvements tenants make to your property could be reflected in their rent. If you don’t there are consequences. This was Wendy’s story.

The upcoming review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 will be an important opportunity for these sorts of tenant issues to be addressed. We need rental reform so people who rent can have a safe and secure home.

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