Experienced Sydney renter needs a little more help..
January 26, 2010 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm familiar with the nightmare of renting in Sydney, Australia, but need some specific advice on my complicated rental reference situation, and a pet cat.

Renting in Sydney is a bitch, I know it. I have a cover letter, a good job, and proof of income & savings. I also have a cat, a freelancing/underemployed husband, an early and complicated pregnancy, and a shortage of good tenancy references, despite having been a great tenant for years. We're getting desperate and would appreciate any advice on the finer points of our application.

Longer explanation:

The reference problem: Ten weeks ago, we moved from the UK back to Australia (I'm a native here, husband is permanent resident) after 5 years in London. The Sydney agents for the house we rented before moving to London have no record of us. We lived in one house our whole time in London, had a good relationship with our landlady. She has agreed to answer reference requests by email but obviously she is not available on the phone during Sydney business hours. Our London letting agent was great but they say they are forbidden to give us a written reference because they did not manage the property. I have just appealed to the landlady for a written reference, but obviously it won't be on letterhead or anything impressive. We DO however, have the bond receipt showing it was all was refunded in full. But that on its own looks pretty thin.

The recent tenancy problem: We actually found a place to live in Sydney about 7 weeks ago. Unfortunately we were threatened by a neighbour's friend a week ago and we no longer feel safe living there. The real estate agency has agreed, under the circumstances, to let us terminate our lease early without penalty. I am sure they will agree to referee for us, but I am concerned that the whole saga just makes us look bad.

The cat problem: We have a cat. He is excellent and toilet trained, but I fear Sydney real estate agents are just binning our application as soon as we mention it. I made a 'pet resume' and printed out the special pet agreement from petfriendlyrentals.com.au, but I'm not sure that will help in the cut throat Sydney market.


1. Should we skip the whole recent Sydney rental reference in new applications, and just pretend we only just arrived from the UK? I'm worried it makes us sound bad somehow.

2. Should we lie about the cat? We are looking for a house with a garden, so it won't be difficult to conceal him.

3. I'm in the 1st trimester of a complicated pregnancy (part of the reason we didn't want to stay in our old place; it's important I am not anxious). Should I mention I'm pregnant - does that help?

4. Any other tips? We're now looking in Marrickville, Leichardt, Petersham, Summer Hill.. we want somewhere on a quiet street, 2.5 - 3 bedrooms, up to $600. We wasted last weekend looking in overpriced Newtown, and now time is running out fast.

posted by 8k to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1- It's possible that the estate agent from your terminated lease may have put you on a blacklist. I've always heard that there was such a thing, but to be honest, it may be a myth. I'd maybe omit it from future applications, it may just flag your application as potentially difficult.

2 - As for the cat, I've always just ommitted that bit. As long as he's properly toile trained and won't mess the place up, you can usually get away with it. My partner an I lived in 2 rental properties over 6.5 years in Newtown then Annandale. Never told them about the cat, and they never found out, or at least never let on that they knew about it.

3 - Can't hurt to mention your pregnancy (congratulations btw) I can't see why it would hinder your application. Unless agents are worried about your income while on maternity leave, especially considering your partner's employment.

4 - Ignore Newtown, unless you hear of a house that is being vacated - very competitive. You might find Marrickville, Leichhardt, Petersham just as competitive. Consider moving a touch west and south - Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park, Croydon Park. But the start of the year is usually a pretty bad time to be looking for a rental.
posted by robotot at 6:56 PM on January 26, 2010

Skip all of the above. I have lived in the areas you mention. Our last search (in 2007) lasted three months until we learnt the only thing that will get you a new property - you have to pay over the asking price. If they are renting at $600, offer $620. The other tip - look late on a Saturday immediately before a public holiday, around 2pm when most of the crowds are done for the day.

It's illegal, unethical, and extremely frustrating, but after three months and being a hair's breath away from eviction (our landlord sold the property we lived in for 7 years) it was the only way to find a place to live.

I now live in London, dreading moving back to Sydney and getting back on the hamster wheel.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:11 AM on January 27, 2010

i agree with robotot, don't mention the cat. i grew up in rental households (for a period) where we had a dog. if you're desperate for a house, and the cat's well trained, then it's fine, the inspectors don't (want to) notice if you hide the kitty litter/doggy bed upon inspection.

i've also been living in marrickville/petersham/stanmore for the past few years. definitely the farther out you go the cheaper it is. marrickville is huge! petersham is, also.

just apply and don't mention the cat. as for the forthcoming baby, if you're looking for 2.5-3 bedroom property i can't imagine why it would be a problem. $600 should get you something ok, i would think.
posted by skauskas at 4:28 AM on January 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, great tips. We are definitely not mentioning the cat now - and I will think about whether to mention my (thankfully very generous) maternity pay if the pregnancy comes up.

That's interesting about offering *more* money.. we've seen listings for a couple of potentially-nice $550 places, so it is very tempting to just do that.

It's funny but we have looked in Petersham and Dulwich Hill and there seems to be very little around, in terms of actual houses not units. Hurlstone Park and Croydon sounds scarily far away, but maybe I will have to get over it. Though Marrickville looks very promising.

The weird thing we've noticed - in case anyone else is looking - is that some old posh suburbs like Rose Bay and Bellevue Hill are actually reasonably good value; provided you only want a flat (and can stand the relative isolation from transport etc).
posted by 8k at 6:21 AM on January 27, 2010

Hi, been through this myself - with cats too no less. First thing, don't mention the cats. Best to not give them any ammo with which to reject you. I also wouldn't mention the pregnancy - mostly because it isn't relevant but also because it might raise questions of ability to pay rent whilst on maternity leave etc.

Things which helped me (we got the second place we applied for - for both we were up against at least 40 other people viewing it at the same time and about 12 other applications, it was nuts).
1) Turn up with all your paperwork already sorted and photocopied, have the application filled out already with all ID there and reference etc.
2) Be the first person to give it to them! We got told by the real estate agent it was first in best dressed. They may not all operate like that but in the chance they do, you want to get in first, and make it as easy for them as possible.
3) Be polite. Being a landlord myself, the agent's recommendations to the owner go a long way.
4) If you miss out on that one, make sure they know you're keen, still looking and good for the rent. If the agent doesn't have to go through multiple viewings because they have you in mind, it may help.
4) Look for viewings that are mid week and be prepared to take time off work to go look. Hardly anyone shows up, so you have much less competition. Saturdays you're up against every man and his dog.
5) Apply for everything even if it's not your dream place. Better to have something than nothing, unfortunately.
6) A 12 month lease is much more attractive for a owner than a 6 month one. Make it known you're good long term tenants - even if you may not want to stay forever.
7) You're a couple who is gainfully employed - this is attractive, something will come up! Good luck

Do this and you should be ok - let us know how it goes. Oh, also, try gumtree. You never know.
posted by Jubey at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2010

Jubey is exactly right. We did most of that in Dulwich Hill 6 months ago. We only got the house we got because we had all the paperwork sorted and handed over before the open for inspection was finished.

We looked at 5 and were rejected by one. But each rental house had about 30-40 people looking through. Be fast, be flexible. The very best of luck too.
posted by taff at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2010

We were in the same situation in the same area recently. 3-bedders seem to be highly sought after in the inner west, with some utter dumps attracting 30+ people at inspection. I did notice the 2-bedders were less competitive--I can only guess that it's because 3-bedders are more popular with students. We ended up offering an extra ten bucks on our application and it worked, although even with the extra money the price was still reasonable, or as reasonable as the inner west gets.

As for the cat we just didn't tell anyone when we moved in. After living in the new place for a while we met the owners and they seemed like reasonable people so we asked about pets and they said yes. I think from a landlord's perspective you're less likely to refuse a request like this once the tenant has proved themsleves to be reliable (and, er, honest). I think it also makes a difference that you apply for a cat and not pets in general--a dog or rabbit is prettly likely to do some damage to a house where a cat's impact is minimal. So now we have a legit kitty who the owners have met and all is well.

Good luck with your hunt.

PS - You might want to have a look at Stanmore as well. It's a much swisher suburb but for some reason it's no more expensive than Marrickville and there seem to be a lot of houses for rent there.
posted by fonetik at 7:12 PM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone - all the answers here were really helpful and even though we didn't end up following them all, we actually ended up getting a nice 3-bed in Petersham - it turned out a good friend of ours used to live next door to the agent, which may have helped. It's slightly above what we'd hoped to spend, right under the flight path, and has the possibility of the owners moving back in after 6 months... but at least by then we will have a recent, local reference and I think it may be a little easier to search mid-year than January.

We cracked and decided to tell the agent about the cat, but only when he called to say he was about to put forward our application to the owners. It was a pretty dicey few minutes and on reflection we were pretty rash, but thankfully, they said yes! Phew. We also mentioned the pregnancy, because if they want the house back in 6 months we may need to leave a week or two earlier, just so we're not looking while I'm about to pop. They were fine with that, too. So we're pretty happy. As long as someone rents our old flat so we don't have to pay the void, we'll be fine...
posted by 8k at 7:14 PM on January 30, 2010

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