Monday, March 30, 2009

#120: Baby, You’re A Rich Man

I continually ask myself, what is it with people who seek rental properties that are way out of their league? It doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, but then that might be due to me having a small degree of common sense. In the past few months I’ve seen people who commonly present with the same problems – they pay too much rent and refuse to acknowledge it, to the point of eviction. And therein lies the biggest problem of them all, because once you’re evicted then you’re more than likely to be added to a blacklist, where your name will remain forever (or until it’s removed). Each land agent and most landlords check the blacklist every time they receive an application for a rental property and if you’re on that list then you might as well not bother. The agent or landlord will always, and I mean ALWAYS, plump for the cleanskin of a tenant over damaged goods, no matter how good your reason is.

And allow me to digress for a short second. We all know about the tenant blacklist but I can’t help but wonder when a renters/landlord blacklist will begin to appear. I know of quite a few land agents and landlords in this state alone that I’d not touch with a pole, nor would I recommend others to (I’d name names but my insanity isn’t that complete – yet). For example there’s one landlord who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to walk into any property he owns whenever he feels like it. He’s also got a good reputation for touching up female tenants and has been known to take a few people with baseball bats around to collect any rents owing. I’ve yet to see him actually release a bond without RTT intervention and the properties he owns are as run down as can be. You’d be better off living in a dumpster. He’s not gotten any mellower in his dotage though and has developed a new tendency of visiting properties that he sold years ago and demanding rental payments with menaces. The result has seen a few restraining orders put in place, but to this guy such things are challenges, not binding legal documents. And then there’s the semi-large land agent that operates a lot of rental properties. Run by a husband and wife team, this lot like to increase rents but don’t bother telling the owners, nor do they pass on the additional monies collected. They’ve got a great habit of forcing evictions for no reason and also hold onto bonds until ordered otherwise by the RTT. What they do though is clever – they’ll threaten the tenant with blacklisting if they dispute the bond claim. The tenants, usually young and worried and bullied thus they don’t dispute the bond claims, lose all the money and end up on the blacklist regardless. That’s democracy in action.

So get a renters/landlords blacklist up and going and let me know – I’d be happy to see how it all works and you never know who’d contribute. The irony is, if you did such a list, the Real Estate Association would be up in arms, yet they allow landlords and real estate agents to list tenants without any form of recourse or resolution. Piss the landlord off and on the list you go. But, as I said, I digress….

We’ve talked about how to locate and secure private rental more than once on this site but one thing needs to be reinforced – location, location, location. Sure, everyone wants to live in the city, by the beach or in the more affluent suburbs, but the stark reality is that if you’re on a government benefit you’ll be more likely to be living in a suburb surrounded more with effluence than affluence. Sorry, that’s just the facts and nothing but the facts, m’am. Still it doesn’t stop people coming in with leases signed indicating that the tenant will be paying more than their total fortnightly payments in rent alone. And, amazingly enough, the tenants refuse to see this as a problem. I recently had one tenant in who was paying $280 per week in rent. No biggie, I pay more than that, but the tenant was earning a pension of approximately $550 per fortnight, meaning that he was $10 in arrears every fortnight. The tenant didn’t see this as being a problem though, despite being six weeks in arrears. I did advise about the basics, you know, simple things like food, electricity, gas…small things. In one ear and out the other. In the end I refused any assistance of arrears payments and assessed for assistance more in line with the payments the tenant was receiving. You’d have thought I’d questioned the tenant’s heritage, such as the anger displayed. Throughout it all I never got an answer to the simple question: “So, where exactly do you find the extra $10 per fortnight?”

Sadly, again as we’ve seen, rents increase out of proportion to the cost of living index. That's a simple fact of life and nothing, until proper industry regulation is effected, will ever change that. Landlords and real estate agents know that they can charge what the market will bear, and this often means charging amounts above market value rents (the argument being that any rent that is paid actually is the market value rent). And let’s not mention rental auctions, an insidious practice that has, officially, been outlawed, but, unofficially, still happens on many scales in the majority of rental offers. There is a way around all of this though and it’s a very simple one: only pursue rental properties in areas where you can afford to pay the rent.

Having said that I am aware that it’s not always the easiest thing to achieve. Everyone wants to live close to the city for a number of reasons. These can include the most simple of reasons – people want to be close to the hub. In the same way that all roads in Italy lead to Rome, all roads leading out of the city centre lead to somewhere else. It’s easier to start a journey using the centre of the city as your starting point than it is to have to travel to a location, change modes of transport and so forth until you finally get to where you need to be. Some call this behaviour being lazy, some call it convenience. Call it what you want, it’s a very real, and in some cases valid, reason. Being close to a linked in support network is also a valid reason, but one that often doesn’t hold water. There are a lot of support agencies and networks within a city centre, but in this day and age many of those agencies have either outreach services or branches in the suburbs. It’s a simple choice to move your case file from one branch to another, and quite frequently the agency in question will only be too happy to move a file from one overloaded central office to a more manageable office. In a lot of cases this can clearly benefit a client as, in a smaller region, their case can receive a bit of extra attention. Win-win all round really.

Some refuse to move outwards due to a certain snobbery. If you’re looking for a rental property under $150 and you find a dog box that frankly you’d even allow your dog to enter then don’t whinge to me. You’ll be getting exactly what you’ll be paying for, so shut yer yap. However, move about 20 kilometres away from the city centre and that same $150 will more than likely net you a very decent one bedroom or a very reasonable (condition wise) two bedroom unit. Live close to the city and the same money will result in a smaller place with lesser quality overall. That’s just logic, but try explaining logic to a group of people who think that Edward DeBono is the real name of the singer in U2. People keep seeking what I refer to as the Golden Peanut. That one peanut in the packet that is so magical it makes the rest of the packet worthwhile, even if the other peanuts taste like processed crap. People will attempt to hunt down that elusive two bedroom, twin story executive town house complete with spa for under $200 a week in rent. It ain’t gonna happen. That place does exist, but if you’re not willing to pay around $400+ plus per week then you’re not going to get anywhere near it. It’s really that simple and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply full of shit. And that’s the truth.

So when you figure out what you can afford in rent, and that assessment is generally easy to do – you’re looking at anywhere between 50 to 60% of your gross weekly income (that’s pre-tax kiddies, or all the money you either, or are supposed to, receive from the dole office) – then start hunting. Why 50 to 60%? Because that’s affordable. Anything over that amount is just not sustainable no matter who you are or what creative accounting you think you can do, unless you're sharing and/or have a second income to draw from (but if you did have a second income then you'd be well under that 50-60% rule wouldn't you?). It just won’t work. Anything under those amounts are bonus time. If you earn around $275 per week on dole payments and find something to rent for around $120 then consider yourself lucky. It means you might be able to afford to keep smoking, both legal and/or illegally. Take your pick.

The trick to all of this is a simple one. The lower you are on the income table the further away from the city centre you’ll have to live. The higher you are on the income table the closer you get to live to the city. There’s no simpler way to explain things than that. Live within your means and do what you need to do and play the cards you’re dealt. If you want to live better than either get a job, earn more money or rob a bank – anything – but you can’t live well if every cent you’re paying goes into rental. If nothing else you’ll either freeze to death in the winter due a lack of heating or you’ll starve to death after you’ve eaten the place clean of food, insects, vermin and pets. Live within your means and you’ll live well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

#118: The Promised Land

Back in the Ages Of Dark I worked in one of those annoying call centres - you know, the ones that ring your grandmother and force her to accept an appointment to have her roof cleaned even though she either doesn't want, nor need it and is senile and can't recall who just lifted a few grand from her bank account. Nice guys we were and the stories I could tell! Lord!

The people I worked with were the usual damaged goods one finds in such working 'environments' but one lady was a classic. She never had any money and stated that she was saving it for a trip. However, and no-one ever connected this series of dots, essentials like toilet paper and the like would often run out constantly. I believed that someone was stealing the odd roll, as does happen, but it was revealed when our pal announced at a staff meeting that she had saved enough money to fly return to Perth. The manager stood up and made a speech about how inspiring she was, how she'd saved all this money to reach her goal and on with the blah blah. Halfway through his speech another girl stood up and screamed, "Of course she saved all that money - she's been stealing all of the fucking toilet paper and coffee!!"

It soon transpired that she didn't just steal the odd roll of toilet paper, she stole entire BOXES! She'd lift those big industrial sized coffee tins, although why and how anyone could drink International Roast without any long term ill effects is beyond me. She's steal boxes of sugar and tea bags. She'd empty a 1.25 litre bottle of fizz and fill it up with milk that was supplied for coffee. To this day I still have no idea how she managed to sneak it all out without anyone seeing her.

She did this every day, and each week she'd take home another few boxes of essential goods. In this manner she saved enough by not having to shop to be able to afford a trip to Perth. Brilliant. No, she didn't get fired, she made too many leads. The response from management at the time was to merely shut the kitchen area down to everyone other than management and to restrict the amount of toilet paper supplied on any given day - and here's the kicker, the lady in question was part of the management team. So the stealing continued, yet the normal staffers were punished. Hey, she able to carry her weight in old lady leads.

Having lived through a my own Great Toilet Roll theft over a decade ago in the private sector it came as no surprise to me to learn the true reason as to why a pile of our Federal counterparts were running wild in the lobby. Initially I believed it was due to half priced coffee day. The Dole Busters usually come screaming out of the lifts like ants onto a sugar heap in search of discounted beans, but a real surprise was in store. Sometime the week before the Big Boss Of The Federals in our building decided to change cleaners to save money, and save money they have. The email was duly sent, new cleaning contractors, all would be well. By the Thursday little things like toilet paper had become a scarce commodity, traded like gold and even smaller things, like cleaning of places like the toilets were no longer hap-hazard, they'd ceased entirely.

Dishes began to pile up as paper towels went the way of honest politicians, although a cloth towel was left, but that'd not been cleaned since Paul Keating left office and often growled at people walking past. However this dirt encrusted disease bag was all that's been supplied for the Feds to clean cups, spoons, plates, body parts and the like. Not a preferred option so more often than not Feds are running around with wet hands in a state of distress.

By the Friday a couple of cubicles had no toilet paper at all. Come the start of the working week no paper was to be found and anguished screams could be heard as printed reports were finally being used for their real purpose, but jagged edges meant that grievances would be filed and proctologists state wide would be visited en masse to be kept in business and make sure that more Mercedes four wheel drives could be ordered. Even worse, there's no paper towelling in the said toilets to dry hands, meaning that the staff either have to walk out shaking water and urine at people, or merely walk around with damp hands until the next heat wave hits. Some have taken the initiative and brought their own paper in, but the underlying current is one of 'why should I have to do that when management need to supply it'? I agree, but surely personal hygiene ranks above management incompetence? Oh well. I'm waiting for the call to come, "The toilets are backed up and there's Richards floating down the stairwell!" I'll have the camera out that morning.

Meanwhile, down on the bottom floor, our toilets, managed by a different contractor, are fully stocked. I chuckle at the irony of being the 'poor cousin'. I do expect to see more of our Federal cousins running around aimlessly in the lobby, weeping and wailing, as they raid the poor little cafe for paper towels in order to clean cups, wipe hands, bums and the like.

And that's called 'good economic strategies'. Management will award themselves a nice little bonus for saving a few dollars and annoying employees. I guess they can always claim that by going down such a road they're ensuring that all staff bond over a common cause. And remember, if five people on a management board can prove that they've saved the organisation at least $5,000 pa then they'll be awarded bonuses of around $10,000 each. That's also 'good economic strategies'.

Stinky fingers unite and arise!!! Viva La Bog Roll Revolution!