BLOG: Tenants - a necessary evil?

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Last week, rental property website published a report titled What Renters Want, which aimed to give an insight into the minds of Australian renters.

As many investors have probably already guessed, the report revealed that a large number of tenants are unhappy with just about every aspect of today's rental industry, from  unjustified rent hikes and tales of baldy-maintained hellholes to horrific tales at open-house attendances and inconsiderate behaviour from real estate agents

It might be tempting to just dismiss this as the same old whinging on the part of tenants - but is it? Could there be a point: is the rental industry one that's in desperate need of a makeover - especially as renters are making up more and more of Australia's housing market?

The number one grip in the report was a simple one - not being able to personalise a rental property. The type of modifications desired ranges from simply nailing portratits to a wall to minor garden landscaping. There's a case for both sides. On one hand, it's laudable that tenants want to feel at home, especially if they're looking to stay put for the long term. With affordability at current levels, that could be some time. On the flip side, there stands a weary investor, whose concern is for the  DIY alteration from hell - think gloss black wall paint or enormous chandeliers - the potential for catastrophe, and a costly repair bill.

The desire to keep pets also comes high up the list of grievances. A staggering 80% of respondents said they would have a pet, given the option - again, it's a natural desire and shows an intention to stay for the long term. But, again, there have been no shortage of horror stories related to our four-legged friends: dirt patches where gardens once stood, flea-riddled carpets, errant pet hair, and more costly repair bills.

Unjustified rent increases also ranked highly. Sixty-five per cent of those surveyed said they felt a rent increase was unfair, citing unfinished maintenance issues as the crux of their resentment. This isn't baseless criticism: there are undoubtedly landlords who impose unreasonable rent hikes, with little regard for tenants' pockets or the state of the property. Buit there needs to be perspective. Rising strata levies, council charges and interest rates, often means investors have little choice - and few reasonable tenants would begrudge rental increases for these reasons.

It's not just landlords who draw tenants' ire, either. A groundswell of animosity is aimed at real estate agents - particularly  a perceived lack of respect for prospective and existing tenants. Survey participants complained of agents not returning phone calls, discrepancies between advertised rental price and real rental price, and highlighted short inspection windows at inconvenient times as a major annoyance. Most of this rings true, and is probably indicative of the way the industry has evolved.  There is, and has been a rental property shortage for a few years now. As short supply fuels demand, it's more than likely that standards will have floundered. Even so, agents should to take a long hard look at how they treat renters: after all, many will be future homebuyers, and a bad experience as a renter will be remembered both as a buyer and as a vendor.

Can tenants and landlords ever co-exist? Is there a middle ground where everyone can be happy? Still, a little flexibility can go a long way - from all parties. There may be a lot of prospective tenants out there, but finding the best ones can be tough: proper due diligence on the part of real estate agents is essential for finding the right fit, and more respect for renters is likely to pay off in the longer term. Maybe legislative change could help.

Finally, it's only fair the landlord has the final say on what is and isn't acceptable on their property. After all, it's their asset that's at stake. However, a good tenant should be able to make a house their home: perhaps requests for personalisation, pets and so on should be allowed after all, subject to a trial period in which the tenant proves they can properly and reliably look after your property.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on tenants at

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