How worse is Australia’s rental crisis?

Sydney holds the title of Australia’s most expensive city for rental houses, with an average weekly cost of $1,044 for houses – a 15% increase from a year ago. Concurrently, vacancy rates hover at a near-record low of 1.7%.

On my 28th birthday, I had anticipated, perhaps unrealistically, that I would be the owner of a charming terrace house in a quaint, green suburb – a two-bedroom dwelling with a courtyard and an impressive book collection. Instead, I find myself commemorating this milestone in the spare room of my parents’ residence in Melbourne. Simultaneously, I am remotely collaborating with my three former housemates to secure a rental in Sydney that falls within a budget of less than $2,000 per week.

For the first time in my life, I lack a permanent address, spending the past week moving between the apartment of my newlywed friends, complete with their two sausage dogs, and my family home. All my significant possessions are in storage, and I’m navigating my days with a backpack hastily packed in the aftermath of a hangover – a few sets of underwear, jumpsuits, a couple of shirts, a novel by David Sedaris, and a toothbrush. This is my current reality: drifting between residences like an urban nomad or a contemporary Jack Kerouac, entirely untethered. As Kerouac once said, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Yet, my situation lacks the romanticism of a beat poet, and I am merely a casualty of Sydney’s housing crisis. My offense? Being the owner of a 40kg Labrador and not possessing immense wealth.

Initially, my housing situation in Sydney wasn’t nightmarish. Upon discovering that our landlord intended to sell our shared six-bedroom house in the inner west, affectionately known as our “Barbie Dreamhouse,” we had three months to secure an alternative residence. However, after numerous inspections, my optimistic outlook began to waver.

One property, priced at $1,300 per week, resembled a 1960s brick box with triangular windows and a granny flat that seemed like a crime scene. Yet, we earnestly discussed the possibility of hanging curtains in the garage to reduce the rent. At other inspections, we joined the throngs of desperate prospective tenants, crowded on stairwells or filming unattractive rooms for later review.

In Marrickville, we explored a dilapidated property at $1,350 per week, plagued by cockroaches, ceiling cracks, and a malfunctioning oven. Another option at $1,450 emitted a strong mold odor, possibly tainted by a shirtless elderly man in the neighboring property.

Eventually, just before our eviction date, we secured a rental at $1,350. It was small, excessively priced, but charming and functional, with functional toilets. Unfortunately, it proved too good to be true. The weekend before moving in, we discovered that the landlord lived across the street, presenting a new, four-legged dilemma. I had omitted mentioning my dog in the rental application due to New South Wales’ stringent pet regulations.

Under these rules, landlords in NSW can refuse tenants’ requests to keep pets without providing a reason and can impose a blanket no-pet policy when listing rentals. Despite my efforts to plead my case and emphasize my dog’s well-behaved nature, the landlord ultimately decided against having a pet on the property.

I was infuriated, especially considering the imminent move. I explained to the landlord that I couldn’t abandon my beloved dog to a pound. However, my pleas fell on deaf ears. In a frantic turn of events, we canceled utilities, contacted storage facilities, and completed the final cleaning and trips to the dump at our soon-to-be former residence.

Instead of settling into our new dream home, we watched as movers transported our belongings to storage. I paced through the empty house, soothing my dog’s anxiety with treats and assuring my parents over the phone that I was “fine” (though I wasn’t). That evening, we dined on pizza on the bare floor of our vacant mansion, reeking of cleaning supplies and frustration. I was angered by a system that favors the privileged while those without basic rights either plead or suffer in silence.

I pondered on the even greater challenges faced by individuals without full-time incomes or reliant on welfare support, pushed into rental stress or compelled to relocate far from work due to limited transportation and infrastructure. As I stroked my Labrador’s neck, I vowed that if I ever became a landlord, I would permit my tenants to have as many dogs as they desired. With that determination, I redirected my thoughts to making my way to Melbourne.

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