Published in the Hindustan Times, December 1, 2009
In Sydney, Australia locals love to complain about the rental crisis that is hitting city suburbs. We bemoan the lack of available properties and how prices are constantly going up. Some Sydneysiders want it all. They want to live near the city centre but also have a backyard where their kids can run around.
Living in a one-bedroom apartment is relatively uncommon, and having your whole family residing in a two-bedroom apartment would be shocking. Surely, Australians think, marriage and children can only work if you have at least a 500-metre radius between each person.
I used to complain when I lived in Sydney too. But after a month of flat hunting in Mumbai, I now understand the real meaning of the terms ‘rental crisis’ and ‘space crunch’.
To put it into perspective – Sydney has a population of around 4.2 million compared to Mumbai’s estimated 14 million.
So while in Sydney you might look at half a dozen properties before finding a place to call home, in Mumbai my partner and I looked at more than 30. During this search not only did we discover the virtues of patience and how to do more with less, but we also gained insight into some of our countries’ cultural differences.
While in Sydney all a successful tenant needs is a good rental record and enough cash in the bank. Here in Mumbai we were quizzed about our eating habits, our relationship status, our religion, what our fathers did and what university we went to. In Australia where eating meat could be classified as a national sport and my vegetarianism is often considered unpatriotic, here my eating habits worked in my favour.
Sometimes we found our white skin opened doors, while at Pali Hill, we were literally chased out of an apartment block by a woman screaming, “No foreigners, no foreigners”. We later heard of Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi’s allegations that he was denied a home in Pali Hill due to his Muslim faith and had many brokers remark that certain apartment blocks were ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’, which we found quite unusual.
But the most challenging experience was dealing with brokers.
In Australia the landlord employs an agent to rent the property. All details of the home are available online, so you don’t waste time viewing unsuitable places. Prices are fixed, the agent draws up contracts and the tenant pays no fees whatsoever.
While here it felt like we were part of a circus. First there would be one broker – then magically 12 would appear. They would say we were going to a one bedroom flat, but strangely it would be two bedrooms. Sometimes the properties were already rented out.
And then we heard about the fees they charged even though our landlord wrote our contract and we did all the negotiating. What, we wondered, were we actually paying them for? They seemed to be running the best scam in town.
But despite these challenges, our hunt for the perfect home also uncovered one of the nicest and most surprising things of all.
In Sydney the most contact you have with your landlord is through a signature on the contract and getting to know your neighbour is often unheard of. Here in Bandra, however, we have landlords who immediately made us feel at home, showing us everything from where to buy our eggs to pointing out the best restaurants in town. Their warmth and generosity were astonishing in a big city like Mumbai. After this experience I feel Sydneysiders, who are renowned for their rudeness, could learn a thing or two from Mumbaikars.