Tenants and other renters come from all walks of life and all sections of the community. People rent for a wide range of reasons – for many it is an active choice, and not just a short term option. It can be for years, or for life.

We Rent is a Tenants’ Union ACT project that gives a face and a voice to the renters of Canberra. In collaboration with emerging local photographers, we are producing a series of portraits of renters in their homes. Each portrait is accompanied by a personal story, illustrating the diversity of our Canberra renting community.

If you are a renter or a photographer interested in becoming involved with the project, please email info@tenantsact.org.au

Murali and Vahini

Image: Isabelle Lee

Murali and Vahini are private tenants

Vahini: Home is food, a lot of food, a place to cook food, my own food. The first thing we did to set up the home when we got here…

Murali: Gumtree

Vahini: We got mostly everything on Gumtree

Murali: Yes, it was a good process because we were always living in fully furnished apartments and this is the first time we owned some things.

Vahini: We’re slowly filling it up – still a long way to go.

Murali: I’d rather own property but sometimes it’s better being a tenant, no headaches, all the paperwork and stuff.

Vahini: That’s because he didn’t do the paperwork for the tenancy. Because I was the one who got the house.

Murali: I did it in the previous country, next country I’ll do it.

Vahini: Thank you very much for that.

So do you think of your rental home as a sanctuary?

Vahini: Definitely yes.

Do you think of your rental property as home?

Murali: I wouldn’t say it’s home.

Vahini: For now, yes.

Chelsi, Emily, Michael and Banjo

Image: Isabelle Lee

Chelsi, Emily and Michael are public tenants

A home is comfortable. Warm. Where we can be us. Muck around. Or not muck around. A place where you can be completely yourself. When the landlord or agent comes through and says ‘thanks for looking after the house’, I find that a bit offensive because it’s our home. It’s where the kids grew up, it’s our place of belonging.

It’s very important for us to have our pet with us. We moved into government housing and that weekend we went out and got a dog. We wouldn’t have that option if we rented privately. It’s so much nicer coming home when a dog runs up to you than when the house is empty.

Having a government house has actually been quite empowering to us. It’s enabled us to make some decisions that we wouldn’t have been able to make. I wouldn’t have been able to stay home with the kids after school, I would have had to take a full time job. In the long run, I’ll be a far higher earner than if I had had to pay market rent and stay in lower earning jobs.

I’ve had friends say things about government housing and I’ve said ‘you’re talking about me! You’ve got to change your attitude.’ But there is still sort of a stereotype there, they just don’t think.


Image: Alex Catalan-Flores

Yen is a private tenant

This was the first place I lived by myself after living in sharehouses for years, and the first time I’ve ever been perceived to be a desirable tenant. Every other time I’ve applied for a house it was with a group of students, and real estate agents just look at you like you’re a last resort. But actually the people that I lived with last time were all very good tenants.

I would love to own a house. I come from a family that really values owning property: as a second generation migrant that was always a big part of what it meant for my parents to come to Australia – was about working hard, owning houses. So for them, owning a house was always a big sign of having stability.

One of the things about wanting to live in a big place and live by myself was wanting to have all my friends over, and not have to stress about whether my housemates minded. And that has always been a big part of connecting with the queer community as well. My big group of queer friends feel like the community, or feel like the really strong intersection of the community. And being able to bring them together is really good. So having a place where you can bring people together, in your home, it feels informal, but it makes you feel connected, is really good.

Kaye - We Rent


Image: Alex Catalan-Flores

Kaye is a caravan park occupant

The caravan park is a home because we’ve made it comfortable. Furnishings, a coat of paint, gardening – it becomes a little retreat. There are times when I’ve gone and helped a neighbour, you’ll just drop everything and go and help them because you hope that’s what they’ll do with you if you needed it. It takes time and commitment to build those relationships and if I moved to a new place, I wouldn’t have that.

Some of us are getting too old to keep moving. The problem is the drama that comes with having to move. Norma dug out her plants last time the park was nearly sold, even though she didn’t know where they were going.

I think a lot of it is boiling down to frustration. The issues with the occupancy legislation have never been addressed properly. The public servants have never had to live in a caravan park, so therefore they’re not interested in what needs to be done. The people who are occupants are usually the more vulnerable people in society, the low income earners, pensioners, people who can’t work for different reasons. Most occupants are quite a transient group, but stable occupants like us don’t get considered so much because most occupants just need a bed, not a home.

To view the full gallery, click the button below:

Our Photographers

Isabelle Lee

Isabelle Lee is a freelance photographer from Sydney who currently studies at the Australian National University. As a child she obsessed over ‘capturing memories’ which prompted her to take on photography as a hobby. She experimented with her parents’ old film cameras until receiving her first DSLR camera at 14, which has since become inseparable. Nowadays, besides event photography and portraiture, she also contributes to Campus Style and The Humans of Canberra project as part of Woroni newspaper.

Contact: isabellelee94@hotmail.com

Alex Catalan-Flores

Alex Catalan-Flores is a Canberra local originally from Chile, currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Economics at the Australian National University. As a photographer, Alex looks to be a silent intermediary and avoid self-aggrandizement, instead focusing on creating meaning between the subject and the audience, exclusively.

You can find Alex on Twitter and Instagram at @patmycatalan

Contact: alex.catalan.flores@gmail.com

Swodesh Shakya

Swodesh Shakya

Swodesh Shakya is a Canberra university student originally from Nepal, studying a Bachelor IT at the University of Canberra. Swodesh has turned his passion for photography and videography into a successful side-hustle. His goal as a photographer is to capture true moments and to let the true nature of his subjects shine through his art.

You can find Swodesh on Instagram at @theillustrator_123

Contact: swodesh_shakya@yahoo.com



Tenants’ Union ACT publishes this website as a free service to the public. Please note that the information on this site is only relevant to renters in the ACT.

This website provides information about the law designed to help users understand their legal rights and obligations. However legal information is not the same as legal advice (the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances). Although we make all efforts to ensure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult the Tenants Advice Service for advice specific to your circumstances. You are also free to consult an independent solicitor for a second opinion.

Please note that this website is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice or opinions and the transmission of this information is NOT intended to create a solicitor-client relationship between the Tenants’ Union ACT and members of the public.

Tenants’ Union ACT makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currency, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.  Please also note when the page was last updated, as the law may have changed.