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Mind the carpet! On the special misery of renting with small children

People say that children help make a house a home, but what about when your house is rented and you could be turfed out at a moment’s notice? Jo Holsted writes about how her parenting is affected by being a long-term renter.

“KALE EAT WAMATO” shrieks my son, as he wrenches yet another budding tomato off the vine and hurls it at the kale, before shoving more of the tiny fruit into his mouth.

I have stopped telling him to wait until the tomatoes go red before he eats them. Partly because he is two and I prefer to save my energy for battles like teeth brushing and keeping pens out of the toilet, but it is also because our landlord won’t be renewing our lease, so the tomato plant, with the kale, will die soon anyway.

OK, not much of a sob story. I am well aware that I have it pretty bloody good. For a start, my husband and I are both employed, and we were able to find a new place within a week of receiving our marching orders. We both have family members that would, and do, help us out financially if and when our incomes aren’t enough to tide us over. In the event that we look to buy a house (lol) it will not be without a lot of help from our parents.

As a student I didn’t have the means, the maturity, or even the desire to commit to a mortgage. Living week to week in a freezing villa with a bunch of other degenerates was exactly what I needed at the time. I met some of my favourite people in the world flatting, and one of my first ever flatmates is my now husband and the father of my son. It’s a classic Kiwi love story and without renting it wouldn’t exist. Flatting meant shelter, a roof over my head, and people to watch reruns of The Office with.

Now I am a mother, a wife, a thirtysomething. And goddammit, I want a home.

With a baby comes responsibility. With a baby comes projectile. With a baby comes a placenta; a placenta that sat in our tiny freezer for six months because it felt too weird burying it under a feijoa tree on someone else’s land. (You’ll be pleased to know we settled for a potted grapefruit tree that is now too big for its pot. Hot tip: Grapefruit trees get big, especially if you feed them placenta).

It is true that at 22 I assumed that by 30 I would have my shit together in ways that, frankly, I don’t. But even in my most modest imaginings of my grown-up life, I certainly didn’t predict poos on the carpet featuring on my list of worries.

Yes it affects my parenting. It affects whether I let my kid run around the house with no nappy on. It affects whether I let him play with felt pens. It makes me think twice about feeding him anything with turmeric or tomato because there’s nowhere I can sit him that’s not flinging distance from carpet. And for the home-owning parents who live like that anyway, all power to you in the fight against stains, but I’d take gay abandon over cleanliness any day, and if it was my own carpet, I wouldn’t give it another thought.

A favourite line of some of the property investors I’ve come across is that this generation needs to get used to renting – everyone rents in Europe! And you don’t hear them complaining! Oui, oui. In the dense hubs of Europe and the UK it’s true, apartment dwelling and renting is commonplace. But in Europe you can sign a long-term lease. In Europe you can paint your bedroom fluorescent orange, chuck up some velvet curtains, and not worry that your landlord’s son will have a fight with his wife and need the place in six weeks.

And, if we accept that regardless of any sudden pull-finger policy from the Government, we are going to have families renting in NZ, surely it’s time we look at providing homes rather than houses.

As good a person as a landlord may be – and hey, some of my best friends are landlords (just kidding, their parents are) – their bottom-line is not the welfare of me or my pooey, sauce-covered family.

We need long-term leases. I’m talking 15 and 20 year leases. I’m talking a space you can buy furniture for and not expect to move it every other year. I’m talking feature walls and fully-lined curtains. I’m talking grapefruits trees.

I’m not an expert on economics, or investment, or tenancy law. I’m full-blown layperson in all those departments. The layest. But as a mother, I am deeply committed to nagging the shit out of anyone who can get this sorted. Any takers?

Disclaimer: I would like to note that my current landlords are bloody good sorts, truly. Especially if they’re reading this.

This post is part of Rent Week, our week-long series about why the experience of renting a home in NZ is so terrible, and whether anything can be done to fix it. Read the entire series here.

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