The insecurity and uncertainty of renting: 'A constant exercise in weighing up options.'

Anonymous • 17/10/2022

At the recent Briefing on Healthy Homes for Renters held at NSW Parliament on 13 October 2022, Sarah* shared her experience renting her home. Though a lawyer and academic researcher, Sarah explained that as a renter she does not feel confident asserting her rights to a healthy home.   

My name is Sarah. I’m a renter in Sydney’s Inner West where I live with my husband and 5 children.

We live in a 3-bedroom house and are quite overcrowded but the rent is affordable and I’m able to live a reasonable distance from my work and within walking distance from my kids’ school. We need to live within walking distance because my husband is blind and does the school runs with his Guide Dog.

The house has significant rising damp, roof leaks, and a couple of years ago the house flooded. This has caused significant ongoing issues including:

  • Mould - everywhere
  • Uneven warped flooring
  • Power cuts when it rains
  • Cold temperatures in some rooms

We also have some rooms that have no heating or cooling. These rooms get extremely hot in the summer. They are not habitable during the day.

With 5 children and my husband’s disability we find it difficult to keep up with the constant cycle of cleaning mould. The state of the house also puts a lot of pressure on my husband’s NDIS support as the cleaning needed is much more than a usual household due to the mould.

I have experienced a lot of respiratory illness in recent years which I fear has been caused by the mould.

Cold homes are making people sick.

So why do I stay in this house?

Finding a house is difficult in our circumstances. We need to be walking distance to school so that he can do school drop-off. And we need enough room for a family our size - we'd have to double our rent to find a suitable new home.

I don’t push the point when it comes to repairs because I’m afraid of rent increases, or worse, eviction. I am a lawyer with a background in housing research so perhaps I know too much!

Knowing how precarious my position is as a renter, I am not willing to rock the boat.

I am also really thankful that we have solar panels on the house. It has made our energy bills more manageable than our previous rental and means that I feel less guilty using the air conditioners when we need to.

I have been working in the legal sector for 15 years. Despite this, I am still too scared to enforce my rights for fear of rent increase or eviction.

Being a renter often seems like a constant exercise in weighing up options. Asking for repairs vs threat of eviction, Asking for repairs during the tenancy vs arguing wear and tear in a bond dispute. The theory vs the reality.

I want to thank you for taking the time to hear me speak on this issue. Often as a renter you feel like nobody cares about your situation. I’ve dreamed of being a homeowner my entire adult life because I feel like a second-class citizen as a renter. Given housing prices in this city it sometimes feels like I might be renting forever and if that’s the case I at least hope that the attitude toward renting in this state can improve.

*Sarah's name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.