Monday, July 7, 2014

Life in a share house: from personality clashes to great parties

By way of introduction to today's article, a mini entry into the Institute of Tenancy Culture Studies. Many years ago the Sandman character shared his wisdom about living in a sharehouse, presenting a view of sharehouse living in line with the raucous, chaotic lifestyle portrayed in other Tenancy Culture Studies entrants like The Young Ones, or a possible future article, He Died with a Felafel in his Hand.


However, todays' real guest appearance is Glyn Mather, Residential Parks Project Officer at the Tenants' Union of NSW. Glyn looks a bit more seriously into the experience of living in a sharehouse. She shared accommodation for more than twenty years in about a dozen places and talked to several other people with different experiences.

You’re a student and you’re living in shared accommodation of some kind, probably because that’s what you can afford. There are problems and frustrations but also great benefits that mean you might decide to keep living like this for many years.

As someone who survived a variety of shared accommodation styles, I was interested to hear about other people’s experiences. I spoke to seven people who had shared for between six months and twenty years, in two to ten places.

It turns out that they were quite positive about sharing. Brian for instance said it meant that, “You could be sharing in a nice house instead of living in a poky bedsit.” They had met difficulties but generally these were outweighed by the benefits.

The most frequent problem raised was getting the bond back when leaving. Almost everyone I spoke to had stories to tell of either losing the bond or having to fight to get it back. Rhys put it this way: “They sting you at the end about the bond.” The best way round this is to make sure the ingoing condition report clearly lists the damage existing when you move in – this is well worth arguing about if necessary – and take photos of any damaged areas.

Personality clashes are also a concern, and “people’s personal habits” as Ed put it – but don’t be alarmed. There are indeed horror stories of people causing disruption and even fear in households, but those people usually end up moving out of the household. Remember though that you can contact the police or mental health services if you are concerned for your safety.



No-one felt they properly understood their rights as tenants, except for Milly who had sought out information, “because they kept our bond and wanting to know our rights after that.” When people strike problems they tend to discuss them with friends and family.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for payment of bills as a source of conflict and Ed said that, “there’s always someone who doesn’t pay on time.” This can be especially problematic if it’s your name on the utility account since you are then liable for any debt. Although leases are often done in multiple names, this is rare for utility accounts. There is little legal recourse here so the best approach is to establish a clear agreement from the beginning about how the bills will be shared, for example everyone could put in a certain amount each week or divide the bill equally when it is due.

The behaviour of landlords and agents may be an important factor in your life. For my sample there were two main sources of annoyance. One was interference, such as landlords turning up unannounced even though they are obliged to give notice. The other was maintenance, as Sara put it: “The property maintenance and repair were pretty sloppy in both places.” Brian had found that, “quite often the landlord wants to do it themselves and it’s not the best.” A further problem Milly raised related to a situation where each person paid their rent separately to the agent: “The real estate agent couldn’t keep track of it and we had no control over monitoring it inside the house.” 

Unless the situation becomes extreme, in all these cases the main solution is to hold your ground with the landlord or agent – you are entitled to live in a place in a reasonable state of repair, and have reasonable peace, comfort and privacy.
So far it all sounds like doom and gloom! But everyone I spoke to said the reduction in rent made share housing worthwhile overall as well as the capacity for pooling resources (such as electrical appliances) and the sharing of housework.

Then there are the social benefits such as “companionship” and “great parties”. People said, “it’s a lot of fun when it works”, “it’s like having an extended family”, “I get to expand my circle” and “meet new people”. There’s a great deal of pleasure in sharing our lives with others, not just co-residents but their friends too.

So find out your rights, establish ground rules for cleanliness, bills and the like, and test out the people you might live with before you begin if you can. But remember, “When it works it’s just fantastic, I wouldn’t have it any other way” as Rhys said.

For more info, check out the Redfern Legal Centre’s share housing survival guide: sharehousing.org and Factsheet 15, Share Housing, at tenants.org.au.

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