Once, the great Australian dream was home ownership.  Now it seems to be exploiting the tenant funding your comfortable retirement while cheating them out of the amenities they pay for.

It is not the God-given right of landlords to be paid for faulty products they won’t fix or for services they won’t provide.  Those who take money without providing that for which it is paid are thieves just like any other, but while Australian society is hostile to perceived dole-bludgers, we foster a culture of bludger landlords.

An electrician friend of mine related the tale of a wealthy Toorak couple he worked for – lovely elderly people who always served him afternoon tea.  They owned a flat, tenanted by an intellectually disabled man. A visitor to the young man’s home, alarmed that the landlords were depriving him of operational heating or cooking facilities, helped him to serve a repairs notice.  The landlords responded by way of an eviction notice.

These two elderly folk, while relying on the tenets of a civilised society for their own protection, had no hesitation in exploiting someone more vulnerable than themselves.  With untroubled conscience, they would turf out a young disabled man as punishment for daring to say, I am hungry and I am cold.  That they could relate the episode over afternoon tea, with no sense of shame, was stunning.

While employers who coerce workers into forsaking their legal rights may be penalised half a million dollars, landlord/agents freely profit from violence, for assuredly eviction as punishment for tenants who exercise their rights does constitute violence.

That so many landlords are of poor character is perhaps unsurprising given their motivation in acquiring investment properties.  As Fairfax’s Peter Martin baldly states in his article, Negative gearers are the opposite of battlers and they don’t build many new homes:

“Negative gearing is a way of avoiding tax.”

while the ABC’s Michael Janda, in his article on The myth of mum and dad negative gearers, writes:

“For those who argue that negative gearing isn’t overwhelmingly the domain of society’s better-off, the truth hurts.”

Jennifer Duke, writing in The Age also focuses on matters material: Family guarantors guarantee one thing only: The rich getting richer but, in Speculative investors are the reason renting is painful, Duke’s acknowledgement of abuse by landlords is revealing:

 “…maintenance left unattended… this is the lot of the Australian renter.”

 And again:

“When you ask for a better lock to be installed on the front door, you’re unlikely to hear the landlord can’t afford it.”

Whether or not landlords can afford to provide a secure lock is immaterial to their legal obligation to provide it, and to their undertaking in entering into a legally binding lease agreement to do just that. If landlords cannot afford to maintain and repair rental properties, then they have no business entering into a legal contract obliging them to do it.  That landlord/agents may arbitrarily renege on those legal obligations without consequence is a damning indictment of a system where tenancy laws are neither enforced nor enforceable, and of the systemic indifference on the part of authorities charged with the duty of upholding those laws.

It seems that every second day the media speculates on the effects of negative gearing in keeping most of us out of the housing market. The greater question is why landlords who break the law are not held to account in the same way as all others who break the law – even when the impact on their victims is profound – and the better question still is why journalists are the least inclined to hold them to account.  While employers  are fined $60,000.00 for failing to provide a safe workplace, landlord/agents who refuse to conduct repairs necessary to the safety of tenants suffer no penalty or punishment, despite the consequential death of tenants.

It is startling that journalists, as members of the Fourth Estate, so readily acknowledge the freedom landlords have to jeopardise the safety and well-being of tenants, without challenging that freedom – as it is richly hypocritical, in the week which saw two Australians executed in Indonesia, that both our media and government have branded the Indonesian president a murderer, while the latter facilitates the injury or death of child tenants and the former indulges it without demur.

Why do landlord/agents whose negligence, malfeasance or misconduct cause injury or death lead such a charmed existence in contrast to others who suffer grave consequences for similarly causing harm?  That, according to Fairfax, the majority of politicians own at least one investment property may explain much, as I suspect, does the reliance of a financially strapped media on its only profitable arm: real estate advertising by landlords and agents.

In light of Fairfax’s refusal to displease the landlord/agents upon whom it depends for survival, its constant narrative on negative gearing strikes me as populist and disingenuous. Speculative investors are not the reason renting is painful, nor are mum and dad investors, nor are baby boomers. Renting is painful because landlord/agents are encouraged, without fear of consequence, to flout laws intended to protect tenants. That is a subject Fairfax will not entertain; not as long as it can string we have-nots along with a sucker battler narrative while itself profiting from those who author that narrative.

Fairfax’s Peter Martin asks of negative gearing:

“What do we get for it? Very few new homes. The more popular negative gearing has become, the less it has been used to build new homes and the more it has been used to bid up the price of existing ones. Back in the 1980s, every fifth new investor loan built a home. It is now every 15th.”

– while conveniently, he avoids acknowledging the reason why so many of us are desperate to acquire our own home: to secure the rights which theoretically we are already accorded under law, but which we are, in reality, denied – the right to be safe and secure, unaccosted by the trespass of strangers.

No-one should be forced to live as I do – in fear of the unserviced gas heater, the faulty oven, the floor put down by a drunken, unqualified landlord – because the chance of asphyxiation, fire or collapse might be less than the certainty of eviction should we insist on our safety.  Having been thus evicted, I have firsthand experience of how easy it is for a landlord to get away with it – as easily as they get away with imposing vengeful rent increases on tenants who ask for repairs.