Is high rent ruining your love life?

'The thing that’s not immediately clear when you sign that lease is that now, to most intents and purposes, you’re married.'

'The thing that’s not immediately clear when you sign that lease is that now, to most intents and purposes, you’re married.' Photo: Getty Images

Have you recently lived in Sydney or Melbourne? Are you a national mining magnate or media baron? If your answers are “yes” and “no”, respectively, then at one time or another you’ve probably dealt with the giddy hell that is attempting to negotiate the rental market in our largest metropolises. Both are notoriously tight and painfully expensive – Sydney rents are among the most expensive in the world, with Melbourne not far behind, and things aren’t exactly cheap in our other major centres.

However, while the economic cost of renting is obvious, its effect on relationships may not be. Does the tight national rental market have implications for our romantic lives?

See if this sounds familiar to you.

A couple have been seeing each other for a bit. It’s early days, but this is definitely no mere fling: the L word’s been used, social circles have merged, local baristas know the combined Saturday morning coffee order. But the lease is up, or the building’s being sold, or the housemates are running off to some cool warehouse space. And hey, this couple are always staying at each other’s places anyway, not to mention sick of worrying if the rest of the house can hear them shagging. It’d be both cheaper and easier just to join forces, surely?


Once upon a time, when Australia was young and bold and you could take your best gal out for dinner, a movie and a Hansom cab ride and still have change from thruppence, couples didn’t live together until they were married. And that meant that people had generally given it a fair bit of thought toward the question “do I want to spend my life with this person?” That, or they just really, really wanted to finally have sex.

Thankfully the sex question is rather more straightforward now, but the blurring of the line between “housemate” and “life-partner” means that decisions that would once take years now take weeks. Chances are you’d be surprised if you heard that a friend was marrying the person they’d been seeing since January, but it doesn’t seem like that big a deal when they shack up. After all, living together means you get the biggest benefit of housesharing – shared expenses – along with the largest benefit of living alone, which is the freedom to wander around nude.

I have friends about to embark on this journey. I have other friends currently in this situation, and others messily extricating themselves from it. I’ve been in this exact same circumstance myself.

But here’s the thing about living with your main squeeze: once you’re in the same house, you now have two options for the forseable future:

Option one: large-scale breakup, or

Option two: this, until you’re dead.

The thing that’s not immediately clear when you sign that lease is that now, to most intents and purposes, you’re married (and that’s legally true too, depending on where you are and how long you’re living together – but that’s a whole different issues). A break up that upends your domestic situation is an order of magnitude more wrenching than a break up with someone you’re just stepping out with, since in the latter case at least you have your own little sanctuary into which you can retreat.

Once you’ve culled your combined furniture and stuck the lesser fridge and mattress on Gumtree, merged your DVD libraries and ditched the excess cutlery, if things don’t work out at the very least you’re going to have some spirited and ultimately expensive discussions about who’s contributing to the replacement of what.

And if things don’t not work out, eventually you’re almost certainly going to have other discussions regarding stuff like future weddings and potential children and shared bank accounts and other things that you don’t necessarily consider when you initially say “hey, if we’re saving $80 a week on rent, we could totally afford to go to Thailand at the end of the year!”

Every couple necessarily has those conversations about the future, of course, and every relationship ends until you’re in the one that doesn’t – and I for one would argue that it’s preferable to go to the grave with memories of ill-starred but enthusiastic loves than thinking, “Boy, sure am glad I didn’t risk my crockery by ever sharing my life with someone”.

However, the early-move-in raises the stakes, and in the early flush of a new love it’s wiser to let things take their course for a bit rather than let economics force your hand. It’s a large-scale commitment disguised as an easy and practical solution.

On the other hand… you’re paying how much every week?

And you know, Thailand really is lovely…


  • Potentially an entire generation is being destroyed by the realty bubble.
    Never to be financially secure, never to own a home, putting off children forever.
    Do the boomers realise their get-rich-quick scheme is sentencing the next gen to waithood forever?
    We are the only country in the world where house price inflation is pursued by govt policy as a public good. Perhaps we never actually moved on from squattocrat robber-baron days at all.

    Date and time
    June 21, 2013, 8:28AM
    • "High" rents are still nothing compared to paying off a megamortgage on the most expensive houses in the world. Stay renting. Save your sanity and money.

      Date and time
      June 21, 2013, 9:09AM
      • I have been renting in Sydney for over 10 years, you can spend more, you can spend less. Similar to a car, you can drive a 15 year old Corolla which is cheap to run and reliable, or you can finance a 2 year old BMW and paying huge re-payments, insurance and service / repair costs.... in Sydney the rental market is still very affordable if you live further, just pick somewhere with good public transport. I can tell that most SMH editors / writers only live within 10 km radius of CBD, and have to live in new developments with a gym, lift and granite kitchens so they can do their 5km run every night...

        Date and time
        June 21, 2013, 9:26AM
        • Yep, shacking up is much more like marriage now. Exactly like it on breakup. Superannuation is now on the table too so if you're the one with more assets then look out! Bad enough to be broken hearted but to be broke as well would suck. Relationships are overrated anyway, I'd rather just stay as I am. Alone but owning all my stuff. Unfortunately, men usually turn into grumpy old gits and the women get sick of it. Can't blame them really!

          Grumpy Git
          The Ivory Tower
          Date and time
          June 21, 2013, 9:48AM
          • Is this the follow up the article from two days ago about "How to tell if you are a tosser" ?

            It is truly amazing how people survive having to buy new cutlery after a break up.

            A cup of concrete as a solution comes to mind.

            Date and time
            June 21, 2013, 9:49AM
            • I find it a bit weird that "deciding not to renew the lease together" equals "end of the relationship". Maybe it's just the social circle I'm in, but I know a few couples who moved in together when the respective sharehouse arrangements fell through, on the basis that they could see how they liked living together for 6 months and if it didn't suit them, they could go back to living apart, but still being a couple. I guess it helped that they all stored/loaned out the excess furniture for the first lease term, but with a little bit of forethought it doesn't have to a complete leap in the dark.

              Date and time
              June 21, 2013, 10:05AM
              • Great article. Very well written. I see a lot of problems emerging when people who have not lived together pre-marriage end up doing so only for it all to fall apart because, simply, they can't live within each other's space for more than a day.

                Which is more expensive? Losing some heard earned on a shared living arrangement so you can work out if you can do it for the long term, or waiting until the ink is dry on a marriage certificate before moving in only to realise within 2 years that, gee, this isn't what I thought it was going to be?

                I'm for dipping toes in the water and being prepared to lose some short term dollars for the potential reward of "yes, this is the one."

                But there's no right or wrong in this. Just learning from (hopefully not too painful) experience.

                Date and time
                June 21, 2013, 10:16AM
                • Marriage is something entirely different to moving in together. I think it is a slippery slope when people try to conflate the two. Sure, you are defacto but that is not the same as married, as defacto relationships are private relationships and marriages are public relationships. People can live together and have completely separate financial arrangements, and even live in separate bedrooms. There is a medium level of commitment, but it is not the same!

                  I did not view moving in with my boyfriend as akin to getting married. People who are not married may view it that way but it is easier than ever to get out of a lease (as now each tenant is viewed as having a lease by the residential tenancies act, rather than a collective lease) than it is a marriage. Sure moving in signals a "next level" approach to a relationship but it is not the marriage level. Marriage implies something far more committed than signing a lease together - the residential lease is not a binding contract (before god) until death.

                  On the note of cost - while rents are high, mortgages are higher. I believe signing a mortgage deed is far more like a marriage than a lease! there is much more responsibility. My friend got a mortgage and bought a house with her bf and it took more than 4 weeks rent to get out of that one - it took over a year of fighting and arguing and talking to lenders and capital gains and financial crap to sell the house! It was a really horrible experience to see her go through.

                  Date and time
                  June 21, 2013, 10:48AM
                  • Oh wow, this sounds like my situation to a tee. Happily seeing someone, and I'm at his house most days of the weeks, and then I've got my sister already asking if I want to re-sign the lease in January. Hmm... You've definitely brought up some situations that I hadn't really considered!

                    Saying that, paying THAT much a week on rent to stay at home one night a week does really kind of suck.

                    Date and time
                    June 21, 2013, 11:24AM
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