Thursday, February 21, 2008

Seven Simple Rules To Renting

So you want to rent, or you need to rent but are finding it impossible to find a place? You're now walking the streets wondering why landlords and real estate agents have to be such pricks. So what do you have to do in order to secure a decent rental property? Let me tell you, it isn't that difficult. And now I'm going to make it a lot easier with my Few Simple Rules To Renting. You read this and follow the rules and not only will you be in a place so fast your head will oscillate, but you'll be wondering why you were so worried in the first place.

Now this is important. You have to be totally realistic with what you want and what you can afford. What you want will probably not be what you can afford, so you're going to have to work a bit to find that middle ground. We all want to live in the CBD, in a four bedroom rooftop penthouse but the facts are that you're not likely to find such a property for under $700 per week, and even that might be a dog of a place. The trick is to find something that's more than affordable. Ideally you want your upper limit to be exactly 50% of your net, not gross, but NET, income. Why? Because no matter how good you are you can't afford to live if you're spending greater than 50% of your net income and I don't care who you are or what you say. On an average income 50% is more than enough. On a limited income 50% is pushing things up hill. Now I know there are people out there who think that they can afford to pay anything up to 80% of their income on rental because it means they'll find something more decent.


You might find something more decent but you won't enjoy it. The rent is one aspect, you also have to pay bills and buy food. You have to live. You might think you can manage a budget better than anyone but seriously, you won't. My mother used to tell us, "Pay the rent and buy food first, the rest you can work out," and while that's very true more often than not people get in over their heads. Loads of things apply here, if you're on a limited income then it's probably better that you either find a legal way to supplement that income to pay for the luxuries in life or just don't bother getting Pay TV, give up smoking and by all means turf the drugs. I've lost track of the amount of people I've seen who've been evicted because they smoke like John Elliott, do more drugs than some ex AFL footballers or think that Foxtel, Playstation, Wii and a pile of other goodies are more important than the rent.

Think affordable. No more than 50% of your NET income, your take home pay, or whatever payments the DSS give you.

Now also be aware that the bulk of rental properties are not advertised in the newspapers. In order to get a decent place you’re probably going to have to visit a real estate agent, which makes the rest of the rules even more important. I was once told that real estate agents only ever advertise about 10% of their total rental properties, and those 10% are the ones they can’t find tenants to move in for whatever reason. They might have chalk marks outside, blood stains on the carpet or just plain haunted, but that’s what you’re going to get via the newspaper. Go into a real estate agents office and speak to them. Tell them what you have to spend and where you’d like to live. If you’re going to be getting government assistance then let them know that too – trust me here, real estate agents love the idea of getting a bond. It doesn’t matter where from, they just want the money with the RTT. Most real estate agents, the reputable ones at least, will work with you and help you find a good place to move into. Once everyone is on the same page then things will happen.


Walking up to a prospective landlord saying, "Yo, dude, how f*ckin' much is this f*ckin' sh*thole?" isn't going to win you a solid tenancy. You don't have to prance around like a pounce, just curb your swearing. Be polite. Ask some valid questions. Most landlords don't know where the local shooting gallery or knock shop is, but they might know where the local deli is. Most elderly people don't appreciate being called 'dude' or 'chickie'. It's rude.

Think about your answers. Here are some helpers. When asked the following questions respond as such:
"Have you been looking for a place long?"
The correct answer is, "No. Just a couple of weeks. I really want to find the right place." Now you might have been looking for the last eight months, don't tell them that. The longer you've been looking the worse it is because if you can’t find a place quickly, in the eyes of the landlord, you have some serious issues that you're not addressing and they can't be bothered with you. By saying you’re looking for the right place means you’re picky and that generally means you’re a clean person who won’t leave the place looking and smelling like the surrounds of a local McDonalds dumpster when you leave.

"Why are you leaving your current place?"
The correct answer is, "I need a bit of a change and I'm looking to move up in the world." Not, "I got evicted when the roof fell in due to all the holes I drilled for my hydroponics set up." By saying the phrase, 'move up' you're telling the landlord that you think their place is great, and much better than the rat hole or dumpster you're currently living in. You can also turn the tables here a bit and ask,
“So why did the last guy move out?” Landlords don’t really expect that question so if there’s a bit of a stammer then it might be a good idea to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is some large ape like creatures turning up on your doorstep asking if you know where the f*ck that c*nt Frank is and are you f*cking Frank? That you don’t need. You also don’t need some psycho girl throwing bricks through your windows at night because someone got the Hell out of Dodge in a hurry.

"Do you pay your rent on time?"
The correct answer is, "Of course." Now if you don't pay your rent on time then you're screwed. If you've been evicted for non-payment of rent then the odds are good that you're on this wanker database that's run out of Queensland (I think). It's for landlords only and it tells a prospective landlord, for a fee of course, if you've been a deadbeat and have fled without paying the rent. Try and bluff your way out of that, or hope that the landlord is too cheap to pay the fee to check you out. Mind you there's no database I know of that covers deadbeat landlords...yet.

Be wary of pets. Most places will say, “No pets!” but you can get around that. Going into a small apartment with a Doberman isn’t a great idea. A shorthaired, neutered, housetrained cat isn’t a bad idea. Budgies are great – everyone loves a budgie. How do you get a cat in? Write a supporting letter introducing your cat. I’ve done this and it’s worked every time. I’d write how the cat was a few years old, housetrained, very clean and fussy. I’d say that he never sheds, is quiet and is never out of the place after five o’clock. I’d also say that he’s a fairly scared cat for the most part and as such won’t be pissing in the next door neighbours’ garden, let alone leaving landmines on the lawn. It works. And even better when I’ve moved into a new place I’ve said, “Ask the last real estate agent for a reference for my cat. They knew he was there.” Just by saying that you’re stating that your cat, of all things, has a rental history. That’s a good thing. Be upfront with your pets, but never say you have anything more than one cat or one small bird. Dogs are a no go. No landlord will allow a dog. They bark, they shit, they grown, they terrorise old ladies next door, and they carry on like, well, unregistered dogs. Even the registered ones. You won’t get a dog past a landlord.

And don't be trying to impress anyone with your gangster speech. Gangster = criminal for most landlords and they're not real keen on renting property to people who they think are wanted by the law for any reason.

In short, think before you speak. Which brings us to...

Seriously I don't care how you dress. Wear torn clothes. Wear bikie gear. Wear women's underwear on your head. Wear a freaking mankini and white Wellington boots for all I care, just don't wear them to an interview with a landlord. Put on a clean shirt, clean pants and shoes. Brush your hair and hide the tatts, piercings and other markings that everyone has these days to make them individual. Just look as normal as possible. It won't kill you and the landlord will appreciate it.

Why? Because if you turn up looking like someone just dragged you through a hedge backwards and smelling like you've spent eight weeks sleeping in dog crap then they're going to wonder what you're going to do their nice place. Trust me on this, as much as it hurts, dressing properly and grooming yourself will make the difference.

Talk to your mates. When someone finally says, "I can't find a f*ckin' place, landloards are c*nts." have a good look at them and think, "Would I rent my property to this guy?" Then look in the mirror and ask yourself the same question. Be honest. If the answer is no then odds on the landlord is thinking the same thing. Now your pals won’t be totally honest with you. No-one will tell you how much rent they’re paying or why they got thrown out of a place. I can have dinner with people and no-one from the DSS will lean over and say, “So, how much dole are you getting?” anymore than a copper pal of mine will ask how many charges am I up for next week. It’s not polite. You ask your pal why he got evicted and he’ll tell you it was because the landlord was an idiot. It was never because he did the wrong thing. So judge them by appearance and attitude because, rightly or wrongly, a prospective landlord will do exactly the same to you.


Unless you're living with someone then go it alone. Taking a friend along only makes the landlord think you're going to be having parties or your mates over all the time. They hate that. If you're old enough to wipe your own arse without help then you can find a place on your own. Plus you never know when your mate might start speaking and as hard as you might try you can’t control what comes out of someone elses mouth. You might think, ‘Jeez, I need this,’ only to hear your pal say, “This frigging dump ain’t worth $150 a week? F*ck off!” Yep, that’d just about do it for you. He might have a nice place to go home to, you might well be looking for a nice Salvation Army dump bin.

Now this rule is altered if you’re a young girl for obvious reasons, so don’t be harping on about sexism. Take your brother or some big guy who’ll say he’s your brother, or cousin. Never say the word ‘boyfriend’ though because landlords hate young girls with boyfriends because they generally equal domestic situations. Cousins are handy and most landlords expect a young girl to come by with someone in tow for support.


Here's a question - you phone for an appointment to view a property and you line it up for the next day. Do you,
A] Go out that night and get scattered/bladdered/ wiped out, or do you
B] Get home early and get a good nights sleep?

If you answered A then that's why you're probably sleeping on the floor on a mattress that smells like urine and waking up next to something that looks like an Orc. Go home early, if you go out at all, wake up early, wash, shave and get to the place a good ten minutes early. Be rested and clean when you go for a place. Be alert. I once viewed a place that had a landlord who was an ex-cop. He asked me so many questions my head was spinning. I got the place though because apparently I wasn't the only person to tell him to f*ck off with all the questions or stammer for an answer. Clear your head and then go.

Be prepared financially as well. Arrange the bond and the rent in advance before you go looking. Make sure you have enough ready cash on hand to leave a deposit, and make sure that deposit is refundable. Get receipts for any payment you make. Don’t play it by ear and then spend the next three days running around selling DVDs to Cash Converters in order to raise the cash. Take a folder to put paperwork in. Take your own pen. Little touches can make you look like you not only know what you’re doing but also make you look organised.

Good word; organised. Work it into conversation with the prospective landlord if you can. Organised = paying rent on time to any landlord on the planet.


Never, NEVER mention that you know people in the area. For all you know those people might be the same clowns that the landlord has been trying to evict for the last two months. They might be the local blunt connection and well known to all and sundry. His name might be Dave to you but it could be Shit to the landlord. If they ask, "Do you know anyone in the area?" simply answer, "No, not really." You're not lying, but you're not telling the truth. Don't say, "Oh, yeah, I know a couple of girls who live three doors down, perhaps you know them?" Their answer to that might be, "The same house where the cops are four times a week?" or “The same place that burnt down last week?” or “Isn’t that a crack house?” or “Oh, yea, I know that person. Isn’t he wanted for murder?” Your application will be binned.

And while we're at it, be legible when you write. If, like me, your handwriting is so bad even a doctor looks at it and asks what it says, wrap your hand in a bandage and say you sprained it lifting a box. That'll excuse your handwriting. I used to shake my hand and mutter, "Damn carpal tunnel," that seemed to work a fair bit. Write slowly and surely. Make sure your spelling is good and make sure it can be read. Here's a clue - if you can't read it then the landlord won't be able to read it either.

You've found a place. It's affordable. It's clean. It's located in a nice area and the landlord is one of those people who pops around every six months to do an inspection, as is their right by law. You’ve followed the rules and you’ve been accepted. So do the right freaking thing by them and pay your damn rent. Don't have a wild dickhead Corey style party whereby you throw your address up on the web and invite half the globe over. Don't be dealing or growing drugs - do that elsewhere. Don't be fighting with your other half. Don't threaten or stand over your neighbours. Don't abuse anyone. Don’t defecate in letterboxes. Don’t come home blind drunk singing and telling people to f*ck off when they tell you to shut the f*ck up. Don’t do burnouts in the communal driveway. Don’t be revving the crap out of your car at 3am when you get home. Don’t lock yourself out and climb up over roofs trying to get back in. Don’t damage the property.

Treat the property and people around you as if they're your own. Think about it - you've got some decent stuff I'm sure, (unless you're a nihilist) so how would you feel if some moron came along and pissed on it all and then set fire to it? Not too good I’m sure. So do the right thing and just behave. Have some respect for the people around you and the property that someone has been kind enough to let you live in for a while.

Do that and you’ll find that you won’t need to locate a new place every five and a half months.

As time passes I’ll throw a few more additions to this list, and by all means if people have suggestions then let’s get them out there. What works for you, when you’re finding, and securing, rental properties?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gonna Fix It So You Never Leave This House Of Pain...

Remember those tv advertisements that ran over the past few years about Violence Against Women? I'm not sure if they're still on the idiot box, but they were powerful indictments on how women are frequently bashed and raped in domestic situations. Strong stuff. They offered up a number of solutions and alternatives for women who needed to flee abusers. The tag line was: "Violence Against Women? Australia says no!" Great weren't they?

I hated them. With a passion. Thought that they were not only demeaning but also ignorant and insulting.


Because they put forward an ostrich approach to domestic violence - the way the ads were presented domestic violence and sexual abuse only happens against women. men are immune. They're all superman when it comes to these kinds of things. Men don't get bashed, or raped, only women do. I always thought that the ads should have gone further and shown men in situations of domestic violence and ran the proper tag line: "Domestic Violence? Australia Says No!" Men are just as prone to this kind of thing as anyone else. Only an idiot from the early 19th century would think otherwise.

Case in point. We had a guy come in not so long ago with two little kids. The kids looked terrified but relaxed when the guy gave them some paper and a few pens. "It's alright," he told them, "mummy won't look for us here." Strange, I thought. This wasn't a small guy. He was at least six foot three and 16 stone and it wasn't fat. He showed me his ID - he's a licensed security guard for one of the most reputable companies in Australia - not the usual crowd control gorilla that you find at a concert, this guy was one step away from being a cop. He was well presented, other than the black eye and the long scratch down his cheek and neck.

"I need help. I've just fled a domestic violence situation last night. Banana City* won't accept me because I'm a man. What can you do?" I ran through our usual options and outlined what could be done. He went away and came back, he'd found a place, got the paperwork done and presented it all to be processed. While we waited he began to talk.

"It all began about three years ago," he said. "She went really funny all of a sudden and demanded that I move out of the house proper and live in the carport. I said, 'Hang on...' and with that she threw a pan at me, in front of the kids. BANG off my head. I started towards her and she said she'd call the cops and say I bashed her if I didn't do what she said. I thought, ok, I'll give it a bit of time then, let her cool off, and off I went. That was my first mistake.

"Every night I'd come home I'd have to sleep in the carport. I wasn't allowed to move the car, mind you, I had to sleep with it. Hot summers, cold winters, it didn't matter. This went on for a while and then the abuse really kicked in. We'd be having dinner and she'd haul off and start smashing me in the face, in front of the kids. I'd tell her to stop, no dice. She'd scream at me that I was useless and if I hit her she'd call the cops. The smallest things would set her off - a dirty glass in the sink. A weed in the driveway. Sand in the kids shoes. She'd wait til the kids went to bed and then start bashing and threatening me. I'd go the carport because at least there I was safe.

"Then it got really bad. If I tried to talk she'd spit at me. She'd swear, threaten and assault me. Dishes, glassware, you name it. She made me transfer all my money into her account and not pay the bills, then I'd get slapped about for the bills not being paid. Couldn't win that one. Then she'd say how she was going to take the kids away, that she'd call the cops and tell them that I'd been bashing her. I'm no idiot, I know that if she did that then the cops would come and arrest me, no matter what I said, so I had to take that threat seriously.

"The end came when she went really crazy. In one week she bashed me in front of the kids every night. The last night she went for me with a knife. That was it. I thought about taking her out, just being done with it all, but then the kids. What would happen to them? And what would they learn? As I was thinking this I hesitated and she stabbed me in the ribs. Superficial, but it was enough for me to get the knife and throw it away. Then the glass came and cracked on my head, she got some cut glass and began to carve me up. 'F*ck this, I'm gone!' I thought, so I ran into the next room, locked her in, grabbed her purse with the keycards in it, grabbed the kids and bolted. I went straight to the cops, filed a report and promptly passed out.

"When I woke up I was in the ER department being treated. Two cops were there wanting to ask me questions. They told me that they'd been to see her and that she'd claimed that I'd attacked her. They took a statement and asked did I believe the kids were in danger. I replied yes, my heart sank, this was it, the cops would side with her. Then one of the cops, a female, leant over and said, 'We don't believe her. She hasn't got a mark on her and you're here. Seriously, if you'd bashed her like she says you did then she'd be downstairs with a DFKDFC** sticker on her.' I got the kids and fled. Now I'm here."

This stuff happens all too frequently and the shame is that the bulk of the agencies set up to assist are geared more towards women then they are the wider community. Women and men are bashed and raped by men and women every day.

Domestic Violence, we all should say no. I'd love to see those tv ads reworked to reflect what's happening in the community of today, as opposed to what was believed back in the 1960s.

*Banana City - well known advocate service whereby if you're fleeing a domestic violence situation they'll help. Not sure why they turned this guy down, but he was insistent that it was because he's a man. Might be something in it. I've seen people on the phones break down and cry after being told that not only will they not be helped, but that the best thing for them is to go back home and wait it out. Great advice, and people think we're bad.

**DFKDFC - years ago a doctor pal of mine used to insist that this expression was doctors jargon for 'Don't F*cking Know, Don't F*king Care' and was written on charts of people who were loopy or faking it as a code. Anyone wanna verify that? I've got others.