Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Renting with bats, mice and squirrels in the wild Midwest USA

Today we have a special guest appearance from Chloe Schumacher, an intern from the USA working at the TU. As Australia considers the possibilities offered by 'build-to-rent' landlords, she presents a timely example of the need to look past the marketing promises of 'institutional' or corporate landlords. This experience is not a one off - recent research found many housing advocates raising concerns about the approach corporate landlords take in the USA.

The first time I had ever rented a home was with five friends back home in Iowa. We are all in college and renting a home off campus is very normal after your first year in college. It was mid summer when we all moved in, and the first night I spent in the house was when the problems began.
I woke up around 3:00am to something hitting my chest. My hand hit something off my bed and that is when the fluttering started. I had woken up to realize there was not one, but several bats flying around in my room! My first terrified thought was to get out, but when I opened the door the pack flew into the kitchen and throughout the rest of the house. 

After this incident my roommates and I tried to call the rental company’s complaint and emergency hotline, but received no answer. Due to receiving no answer we all went into the office the next morning to sort out how to get rid of the families of bats living in our home. We explained the situation and our concerns – bats can carry rabies, their bite can’t be felt, and their faeces is a health hazard. After the story and explanations of concern, I was told that it was bat season; therefore there was nothing that they could do!
After being told that there was nothing that our renting company could do to rid our house of the infestation, we decided to be hopeful and leave our front door open to try and let them fly out on their own. This didn’t end up working; instead the bats went to sleep, hanging from the living room ceiling away from the door, due to it being so hot outside. They liked our house because it was nice and cool!
We had numerous run-ins with the bats. There were many times when one would be hanging inside the door frame and then when the door was shut, it would accidentally be smashed and injured or killed. Due to being concerned about rabies and other diseases, we decide to keep a few of the dead bats to send to be tested. After receiving positive results for the bats caring diseases, we became increasingly concerned and continued to seek out our landlord for help. The battle lasted for over 2 months and included several sessions of the five of us planting ourselves in their office and asking to speak to manager or company head. We even resorted to bringing in and leaving the bats in the office that had died in our home to try and prove a point.
We could go no longer go into our basement and finally after the two-month plea for someone to come out and do something about our bat invasion, our landlord sent over a maintenance crew.  These two men had no idea what to do about bats and were only trained in carpentry; they claimed they couldn’t find any bats. Since our landlord had sent someone out as we had asked, they acted as if they had done all they could to help.
It wasn’t until a few days after the carpenters had visited that a police officer was called and he kindly collected all of the bats in our living room and removed them. This process took him over two hours to catch and release the creatures, because they are protected in Iowa and much of the United States.
Even though our bat problem had been solved, we continued to have animal problems in the home throughout the rest of our tenancy. There was a large nest of mice living in the basement and they would also get into cupboards, but when we complained about this we were told the house is old and that is to be expected. If we wanted anything done about the mice, we were told we’d have to figure it out ourselves. Later we had squirrels and mice in our walls and again we received no help and were told it is just part of living in Iowa and in an older home. So, we dealt with the scratching noises that they created at night in the walls. Another problem we had was the power would randomly go out. When we complained about this, we were told it was due to the mice chewing away at cables and they weren’t responsible for such instances, even though we had complained about the mice problem previously!
The company we rented from was unhelpful and eventually became rude whenever any of my roommates or myself even entered the office building. We were treated more as a nuisance than customers, or even tenants. All of our requests for help were met with excuses and explanations of “that’s just how it is.” Unfortunately this isn’t an uncommon scenario in my college town, because a single company owns a very large majority of the homes and apartments for rent in the area. This allows the company to provide unsatisfactory tenancy experiences but still not go out of business. This is a huge problem where I am from and the company has been taken to court on many different occasions for their actions (or inaction). In fact, they would often only respond to tenants who were paying rent above a certain grade and the rest of the tenants who didn’t pay as much were never helped or even received a response to complaints or maintenance requests. Students have even come to expect that they will never see their deposit money back, even if they were perfect tenants and did not damage the home at all.
This company is the backbone of the renting industry where I am from, which allows them to get away with their mistreatment of tenants. Students are forced to just deal with their tenancy problems – like living in a pest menagerie –, because we have no other option of places to rent from within in a reasonable distance from campus. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Because of her, we can: NAIDOC Week 2018

Here at the Tenants Union, we are lucky to have an incredible network of Tenant Advocates working actively across the state with tenants to help resolve their tenancy issues. They are an incredible bunch of people, who help to keep the wheel of justice running (somewhat) smoothly.

The four Koori Tenants Advice services are dotted across all corners of NSW, with the Western Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service in Dubbo, the Greater Sydney Aboriginal Tenants Service in St Mary’s, the Southern Murra Mia Tenant Advocacy Service in Batemans Bay, and the Northern NSW Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service in Grafton and Newcastle – supported by the Dtarawarra Aboriginal Resource Unit.

These services work tirelessly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tenants across NSW, managing every range of tenancy issue you could imagine, as well as the intricacies and difficulties that come with the Aboriginal Housing sector.

Each of the services are bolstered by some incredible female tenant advocates, who we are celebrating with our 2018 NAIDOC video, tying into the NAIDOC theme for 2018 being ‘Because of Her, we can’. Some of our advocates are shyer than others about appearing on camera and we couldn’t quite coax them all into filming an interview, but we are very grateful to each of them for the wonderful work that they are doing in supporting and advocating for the rights of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tenants across NSW.

Thanks to all of the extraordinary women who make up our Koori TAAS network, you are truly remarkable!