Sometimes the fur flies at weddings, and things can certainly get catty between landlords and tenants but, as we explore in this week’s podcast, a woman has taken things to a whole new level in an effort to get round restrictions on pets.
This story about the woman who married her cat started in Sidcup, just outside London, and has gone around the world and back again.
But Jimmy did some digging and discovered that on just about every occasion, it has been misreported.
It’s not the cat-lady’s fault – people just made assumptions (as they do). So, listen in for the truth behind reports that this was to avoid eviction for having a pet where one wasn’t allowed.
There’s more to this than meets the (cat’s) eye, including the revelation that Debora Hodge isn’t the first cat lover to marry her pet.
Then there’s the certifier of the building next to Mascot Towers who was discovered to have been in China when he was supposedly approving the building works.
We ask why Building Commissioner David Chandler didn’t want journalists at a developers’ seminar he addressed recently.
We examine why councillors and council officials in a Sydney Local Government Area now have to register every meeting they have with developers. (We use the word “record” in the podcast but we mean make a written record, not an audio recording.)
And we speculate on what interest rate rises and political posturing is likely to do to apartment prices and rental availability.
That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap … and here’s a video of the cat lady, as a little bonus.
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TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Every week we sit down to do this podcast, and we start off thinking we don’t have anything to talk about. By the time we are sat down, we’re thinking “we don’t have enough time, to talk about everything.”
This week, we have a woman who married her cat, so that she could stay in her rented accommodation. Although, there’s more to that than it sounds. We’ve got the certifier…
Did the cat own the apartment or something?
Pets weren’t allowed in the apartment; that’s why she married her pet?
Not even that.
Oh, okay. I’ll be interested to hear about that!
And, there’s a certifier who’s been struck off, for life. We’ve got all sorts of other things with developers, including David Chandler… Big news about David Chandler; the Building Commissioner and what the various parties are promising to do about housing. The Greens have got some pretty exciting ideas. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review. And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain. And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
So, what’s this about the woman marrying her cat?
Oh, this is a story that’s bouncing around social media at the moment. Basically, the story is that Deborah Hodge from Sidcup in southeast London, has married her cat India, to avoid… Well, according to the stories, it’s to avoid being evicted from her apartment and then you dig into the story and you discover that she is not in danger of being evicted because she has a cat, she’s in danger of being evicted, because she hasn’t paid her rent.
Oh! So why has she married her cat?
To make it clear to prospective landlords, that she and the cat come as a unit. Twice in the past she has “had to give up her beloved pets, because landlords didn’t allow pets in the rented property.” Okay, I know exactly what you’re thinking; you’re thinking well, find another property that does allow pets. Two Huskies were the first ones that she had to give up and another cat, which apparently broke her heart. So Deborah; poor Deborah, she’s (dare I use the word ‘failed’?), no longer employed as a ‘life coach.’
She doesn’t sound like she’d be a pretty good life coach, really!
You can understand why that hasn’t worked out for her. I don’t know if she was self-employed or whatever, but she’s now facing eviction, due to non-payment of rent, so she’s going to have to try and find somewhere else to rent.
Is she making any money from her social media posts?
I don’t know. There’s no hint of, you know, crowdfunding or whatever. It’s really interesting, when you start looking into it. You know, you do a Google search for ‘woman wants to marry cat,’ or ‘has married her cat,’ and the first thing you find is all these pictures of women with cats, snuggling up to the cats, none of whom look even remotely like Deborah Hodge. There are pictures of the actual Deborah Hodge. Presumably, the newspaper that took the pictures actually charges people for using them. So, all these websites have gone out and done a search for ‘woman with cat,’ and their free picture services. Actually, if you look at the pictures, the cats in the pictures looks more like Deborah Hodge’s cat, India…
Than the person looks like Deborah Hodge?
How do you marry a cat anyway? I mean, we’ve got two cats…
You get a certificate from a website that specialises in inter-species marriage.
Oh, I see! So you don’t actually have to order a cat to turn up for a ceremony, because I don’t think our cats would ever do that.
Well, they had a ceremony and India… By the way, I should point out that India is a female cat, so this isn’t just inter-species, this is same-sex marriage.
So complete diversity.
I just remember; was it Canavan, the MP, that said that same-sex marriage would lead to people having relationships with their animals? It turns out he was right. But then, you dig a little bit further and in 2015, there was a woman whose name is Barbarella Buckner, who married her two cats. Basically, because she’d come out of a failed relationship, she realised how fond she was of her cats and she thought it would be a piece of fun to get this marriage certificate to confirm her fondness for her cats. People have interviewed her; Huffington Post interviewed her and they were saying “is there any sexual component,” and she’s going “don’t be disgusting!” You know, basically going look, it’s just a piece of fun. Getting back to Deborah Hodge; you are a landlord, and she has married her cat, so that you cannot separate the two of them, so she turns up and says “I want to rent that house, or that apartment and by the way, I’m married to my cat;” are you more or less likely, to rent your property to her?
Yes, she may have misjudged that a little bit, really.
I think so. Look, there’ll be somebody out there; there’ll be some cat lover out there, who will take pity on her. But you know, she’s been through two dogs and another cat that she’s given up, before coming up with this brilliant idea of marrying India, her cat. Her three-legged cat…
Oh, it’s a three-legged cat, too!
Yes, it had a bit of an accident. I feel sorry for the cat; actually, dogs and cats survive incredibly well. Is she more likely; it’s hard to say, would she get another flat or house somewhere, or not?
She obviously sounds quite enterprising, really; in some ways.
That’s a different use of the word ‘enterprising.’ I thought you were going to say that she sounds quite mad. But yeah, she has a certificate. She had a little wedding ceremony and obviously, the landlords of Sidcup in Kent, are lining up to give her a…
To rehouse her. Actually, she might make some money; you know, going on talk shows and stuff, with her cat. Just the curiosity value, so magazines might pay some money for stories, so she might be able to afford her rent.
She might be able to stay and then it won’t be a problem. Then she can divorce the cat. When we come back, we’re going to talk about David Chandler. Some big news, about Big Dave.
Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard him called ‘Big Dave.’
I’ve called him that before.
To his face?
No. I think one tends not to call big people ‘big’ to their face, due to the fact that they’re big.
But he did use that fantastic phrase once, didn’t he, when he was talking about the Australian Securities?
Oh, yeah. ASIC.
ASIC, yep. And saying that “they should put their big boy pants on.”
Yes and then got into trouble.
Did he say ‘their man pants?’ No, he said ‘big boy pants.’
And people were saying “oh, that’s sexist, or something.”
That’s right. He got a lot of flack for that, I think.
Because we’ve all lost our sense of humour.
What’s the news about him?
Well, he did a speech to…
Property Councils of Australia seminar; webinar.
Developers, yes. He announced that he had signed another year’s contract. His contract was due to run out in September this year and he signed up for another year after that.
So he said to the crowd of developers at this conference “I know, a few of you have got the champagne on ice, waiting for September, for me to go… Well, you can put it back in the cupboard, because I’m going to be here for another year after that.”
I wonder how that went down? I’m sure people laughed, even if they had their teeth gritted.
It’s interesting; he issued a press release last week, talking about this rating system that they’ve got.
Yes and we’ve covered this on the website. But slowly, it has to be said, developers are putting themselves up for being assessed. He said 80%, or more of the companies that have applied for ratings, are going to get their three gold stars, which is the minimum. If you don’t get three stars, you don’t get anything. And you know, some of them are obviously hoping for higher ratings than that; five stars would be the ultimate. It’s interesting, because what he says is, these developers that have the star rating, will encourage insurers to come back into the market; the commercial insurers to say “okay, we are going to insure the construction of this building, because we believe there is a low risk of there being serious defects in the building.”
Which is fantastic for apartment buyers, isn’t it?
Absolutely, because it should have a domino effect, that if only the best, most reliable developers get the star rating and only the developers with a star rating get insurance, then the purchasers are going to look at the star rating and go “well, I’m taking a risk here, with this developer, because either they’ve applied for a star rating and haven’t got it, or they haven’t even applied for a star rating, because they think they’re not going to get it.” So that’s quite interesting. I think we all expected this to happen overnight; kind of like TripAdvisor, it would suddenly take off and it hasn’t taken off to that extent. But there are a lot of people buying into this now. A lot of developers are buying into it.
Because it offers both a stick and a carrot, doesn’t it really?
It does and it could change the whole face of the industry; it should do.
And it’s interesting, because I think a lot of developers think their buildings are much better than they are. Developers don’t tend to go into it thinking “we’re going to build a crap building,” but then they start cutting costs. But, if there is a price they can see at the end of that, of not getting a star rating and not being so attractive to buyers, then maybe they’ll go along with their original vision; maybe one that they found with a good architect as well, and stay true to that vision.
And what they’ll do is employ people to find problems. In the past, they’ve been employing people to hide the problems; now they’ll be employing people to find them, so they can fix them. The rule of thumb is, it costs 10 times as much to fix something once a building is finished, as it does to fix it while it’s being built. So if they can see that; if they can bring in people and say “we need you to do really forensic checks on our building, before anybody from government comes anywhere near it…” That could change a lot.
Absolutely. As soon as you’ve done 10 bathrooms, you get someone to come in and absolutely check that the membranes are intact. So therefore, the next 100 bathrooms are going to be perfect, as well. Makes great sense.
The other thing about David Chandler is (and it’s just a little side issue); he did not want any press at that seminar… He specifically said there to be no journalists. Something we mentioned, a few weeks ago, when we spoke about him… He is very wary of the ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ People regard him as the great hero and all it takes is for somebody to decide there is benefit to be had in saying he’s not a great hero… We refer to Peter Ryan, the Police Commissioner, as somebody who fell foul of that. He was so incredibly popular, that somebody felt…
They wanted to tear him down from that pedestal.
In fact, when we say ‘somebody,’ we’re talking about Alan Jones, the radio broadcaster.
And as well, you can see it from David Chandler’s viewpoint. He probably wanted to be able to sit and address developers as a group, hoping that it wouldn’t be reported in the press, so then they could have a free and frank conversation. But, that wasn’t to be.
Well, Urban Developer…
Bought a ticket for the seminar and went along.
And put it on their website and we took information from their website, but I haven’t seen anything about this in any of the regular newspapers, so far. So there’s interesting things happening with David Chandler. He’s going to be here for another 18 months. He is going to be around; he’s going to be kicking developers in their ‘big boy pants,’ and making a difference. We hope so, anyway. And on that topic, there’s a couple of other things that have happened in the past week. A building certifier has been struck off for life.
Yep, absolutely. It was a private certifier. He was the guy who did the final inspection on the Peak Towers in Mascot, which is the tower next door to Mascot Towers, which is crumbling. It’s had so many problems and people had to leave their apartments. It was last Christmas, wasn’t it? Christmas before last.
Yes, Christmas before last.
And have been homeless since then. So at the moment, there’s a couple of court cases going on. Some apartment owners in Peak Towers are taking their developer, Aland to court, saying that their…
Building’s got defects.
Yes, that’s right and non-complying work, which breaches of the statutory warranties. Also, some of the owners in Mascot Towers are in court.
Also against Aland.
That’s right. They are alleging that their building has had huge problems because of the building next door.
The allegation is that when Aland dug down into the foundations to put a car park in, they didn’t ‘shore up’ the Mascot Tower’s side sufficiently and that caused it to subside. The Mascot owners, their allegation is their building was never designed to be bent by subsidence caused by an adjoining building. That’s their allegation, which obviously, Aland and are fighting desperately, to disprove. They’re saying that there were cracks in the Mascot building, before they even started work.
So this private certifier was the person who did the final inspection for Peak Towers at Mascot. His name’s Maurice Freixas and it’s been discovered that he was actually in China at the time.
At the time he said he was inspecting the building?
That’s right. He’s been struck off by Fair Trading. He’s had a lifetime ban and that’s the the harshest punishment against a private certifier in the past 20 years, which is surprising in itself, isn’t it?
Yes, but you know, it’s all part of this new diligence, where certifiers have been getting away with (almost literally), murder for decades and decades and suddenly somebody is saying “well, what are these guys doing? They’re signing off on buildings that they’re not even inspecting,” And there’s no comeback.
But their role actually, is more like paper-shufflers, isn’t it really? I mean, I always think of a certifier going around, looking at tiles, looking at membranes, looking at the walls of buildings and looking at ceilings; making sure it’s all right. But really, they just look at the reports done by the people working on the building and make sure that those reports are in order, and then tick them off.
And some certifiers have been told in the past, under no circumstances, even park your car outside the building, because we don’t want to be held responsible, if the tradies hadn’t done their jobs properly.
Right. So it’s a problem with the certification system, really.
But I think when you go to China; when you allege that you’re sitting in your office, checking forms and reports and invoices, then you’ve gone beyond the pale on that. He also issued a certificate of occupancy…
That’s right, yes.
Again, having not (one assumes), inspected the building in anything like a forensic manner. So that’s big news and then we hear down in Strathfield, the council is saying that councillors and council officials must record every meeting they have with developers.
It’s quite amazing that they don’t do that anyway, isn’t it?
Yes, but you know; when you hear about some of these innerwest councils, and all the dodgy things they get up to, where councillors or developers have a deal, where one developer and councillor will say to the other one “well, you can’t vote on this, because it’s your project, but I’ll vote for you, if you vote for me.” Occasionally (delightfully), some of them end up in jail. Developers must be feeling a bit under the pump this week.
Yeah, I think so.
They should be.
I guess they’re all watching very carefully, the ICAC investigation into the former Canada Bay mayor, Angelo Tsirekas. The allegation with him, is that he accepted overseas flights and hotels from a Chinese developer and the Chinese developer was really keen on his council agreeing to a new tower in Rhodes. They’re investigating whether in fact, he was corrupt. The Chinese developer has subsequently gone bust, iProsperity. I think that’s attracting an awful lot of attention, really
That reminds me of the Fair Trading minister from Victoria, going on a nice jaunt to San Francisco to go to the Airbnb headquarters, and having a lovely time there, going around looking at what can only be banks of computers; there’s not much else to see. It’s just people sitting at computers. He comes back and announces new laws that allow Airbnb to go anywhere they want to go in the whole of Victoria, and take over half of the apartment blocks, if they want. Is that corruption? Apparently not. Apparently, that’s ‘fact-finding.’ So maybe this mayor of Canada Bay could say “I just wanted to check out what this company was like, before we awarded them a big permission to build a big building.”
I think there has been so many scandals with councillors. There was the other mayor, Antoine Doueihi. He was ticked off by NCAT a few months ago, for failing to declare his extensive interests in property development companies, I mean, that’s shocking.
I think there should just be a law that if you are a property developer, you cannot be a councillor and neither can anyone in your family
But a lot of people have interest in property development companies. They might have shares, or something like that and they need to declare those. Do you remember many years ago, we knew somebody who was standing for mayor for a local council and that person mentioned to us, that they’d been approached by a property developer, who was suggesting that he support their campaign for mayor. This person was saying to us “isn’t that great! You know, I’m getting all this money.” We were absolutely appalled and said to this person, who was incredibly innocent and naive…You kind of think, some of these councillors are naive. We sort of said “there’s no way you can accept that money.” I don’t think that person ended up accepting the money, because we were clearly so shocked and appalled by it. This person hadn’t even considered that kind of idea. I think you have to give them the benefit of the doubt sometimes, but these days, there’s been so much publicity around corruption around property developers, and councillors, and so many of these buildings are very controversial with their own communities…There’s no real excuse for naivety these days, I don’t think.
We’re going to look at what the various parties are offering, in terms of housing and housing affordability, and I wonder how much of it will ever come to pass…
So just this morning, we hear that Labor are announcing that they’re going to finance 100,000 new homes, which will be on the basis of shared equity. The government will own maybe, 30% of the value of your property and pay 30% upfront and you will carry the rest as your mortgage. If at some time in the future you sell the property, then you pay back the 30%. They get 30% of the profit, which is good. That’s no cost to the general population; to the taxpayer. In fact, the taxpayer benefits.
In the long-term
Or, they can just pay back the money that was put in and and own the property in its entirety. It sounds like a good idea.
It does, doesn’t it? It sounds like an interesting mix between private housing and public housing. Instead of providing public housing, they’re providing a public element of a private home. In Australia, home ownership is something that’s so prized. You know, we come from Europe, and it’s not the same there. You know, lots of people rent their whole lives. But in Australia, people really want to have a share in the kind of wealth that’s created by property ownership.
It’s good, except it will inevitably push up house prices, because there will be more people in the market, trying to buy. I mean, they will probably do it for only for new properties, if they’re sensible, because then that stimulates the building industry. But it’s generally a good idea, until you stack it up against the Green’s plan.
What’s their plan?
They are going to build a million new homes and some of them are going to be low-cost housing. Some of them are going to be shared equity, and about 750,000 of them are just going to be public housing. They are just going to build them to rent to people. Now, that will take the sting out of the market.
Well yes, absolutely. That’s not such a bad thing, is it really, because those will be allocated to people like police officers, nurses, aged care workers; people on not very good salaries.
But who you need to live in the city centres.
Because you need their services.
It is bad news for people who’ve got a lot of money invested in property. Well, apart from the fact that it’s the Greens, and they’re never going to be the government. I can’t see that that would force prices down, but it might stop property prices rising, at the rate they’re rising at the moment.
And rents rising at the same rate as well, which is a good thing really. But you know, why do we need to look after investors so much? We already give them negative gearing, which has been so controversial in the past, but nobody’s actually talking about it for this election, because it is so controversial; the idea of getting rid of negative gearing. Really, why do we need to give all the benefits to investors who are making money out of property, rather than the idea of property being people’s homes?
The reason for that is because it has been politicised. It has gone beyond whether or not it’s a good idea. It’s now in the area of, can one side attack the other side, because of this? It falls into the same area as the carbon tax. I mean, every economics and environmental economics expert says we should have had a carbon tax in Australia 10 years ago, but because one side of government was able to attack the other side and just spew out all these lies, about how it was going to destroy our lives.
We were talking last week about the electric car thing; you know, Michaela Cash saying ‘they’re coming for your utes,’ and the prime minister saying that Labor were going to destroy the Australian weekend, because electric cars weren’t powerful enough to pull caravans I mean just lies. They politicised the environment and they politicised housing and that’s a great tragedy in this country. You look at some of the things that are happening in Europe and America… We’re pretty backwards here, simply because every three years, both sides of politics get to throw absolute nonsense at each other, rather than actually looking at good policy and convincing people ‘this is a policy that could work for you.’ I think the negative gearing thing; I mean, Labor at the last election said “we’ll grandfather it, so anybody who’s enjoying negative gearing, will continue to do that on those properties.” The Liberals said “oh, yeah, but when you try to sell it, the person who’s buying it won’t get negative gearing, so that’ll push the value down.”
So what are the Liberals promising in this election?
I think they’re pushing on with their 5% deposit for first-time homeowners, but they’ll come up with something in the next week; you know, it will be rainbows and unicorns. Right, covered a lot of ground; there’s a lot happening…Thanks, Sue, again for your input and thank you all for listening. We’ll talk to you all again. soon.
Bye. Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flatchat.com.au. And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favourite pod-catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.