Tenant Leander Schulz at 47 London St, Dunedin, in 2012. The flat, named Dunedin's worst in 2012 Otago University Students' Association competition, is now transformed into a warm, low-energy villa thanks to the work of Schulz and his friends. Photo: supplied

Dunedin’s landlords are shit and something needs to change

This week’s issue of Otago University student magazine Critic features a story on a landlord who gave tenants illegal fixed-term contracts for what was legally a boarding house. It’s just the latest in a string of shocking stories of exploitative Dunedin landlords and property managers, writes editor Charlie O’Mannin.

Over the past few years Critic has covered a lot of tenancy stories about truly terrible landlords and property managers.

  • Mike “Dunedin’s Dodgiest Landlord” Harbott rented properties that were “unliveable” and then just refused to pay when the Tenancy Tribunal ruled that he had to reimburse tenants across his flats for over $10,000. Some of those tenants went as far as getting a debt collector involved. He also threatened the tenants in his properties not to go to the Tribunal and not to speak to media (spoiler: this becomes a recurring theme).
  • We wrote an article about just how difficult it is to navigate the Tenancy Tribunal, and about a tenant whose landlord suddenly became uncontactable after being ordered by the Tribunal to pay the tenant compensation.
  • We wrote about how Dunedin landlords were using illegal fixed-term contracts for flats that are legally boarding houses; if you live in a boarding house you can leave with 48 hours’ notice.
  • We reported on how fucked it is that UniFlats don’t have to obey tenancy law and how a bunch of international students aren’t happy that the University comes into their flat without giving any notice.
  • We wrote about how messy things can get when a flatmate leaves and the rest of the tenants are responsible for their rent under their collective tenancy agreements, with some students being forced to pay thousands of dollars of someone else’s rent.
  • We reported on Cutlers Property Management’s “exploitative” rent bidding campaign, where tenants had to place rent bids to sign the iconic student flat Debacle. Within two hours of our story going online Cutlers cancelled the competition and apologised.
  • We covered Four Walls Property Management Company cutting off all communication with tenants for months and ignoring their requests for repairs.
  • We wrote about how Dunedin landlords are leaving insulating their properties to the absolute last minute, after new legislation from the government required it.
  • We wrote about Cutlers Property Management being unhelpful and unresponsive to tenants. After we approached him for comment on the story, Matt Cutler threatened to expose the tenants’ private information online if we didn’t pull the story.

This week we’re back on the boarding house train: Erin Gourley is investigating a landlord who repeatedly made her tenants sign illegal contracts. We’re also talking about how the Tenancy Tribunal seriously dropped the ball and made an incorrect ruling, upholding an illegal contract when the same Tribunal made the ruling that meant it was illegal only a few months prior. The Tenancy Tribunal is supposed to be an impartial body that solves disputes between tenants and landlords. It kind of seems like they’re not doing a great job.

Oh also the landlord threatened us not to publish the story or face “FURTHER ACTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” You’ll find the story in full here.

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The email Critic received from the subject of this week’s report (this screengrab is now on the magazine’s cover).

We’ve only dipped our toe into the cesspit that is Dunedin tenancy problems. There are so many shit landlords and property managers out there and the Tenancy Tribunal, which is tenants’ only recourse, is overly complicated and difficult to navigate at best.

One of the potential solutions that has been floated is requiring a landlord licence. Effectively, in order to be a landlord and rent out your property you’d need to prove that you’re capable and trustworthy, and landlords would get demerit points if they repeatedly show they aren’t. This system has been applied successfully in parts of the UK for some time. Click here to see which of the candidates for Dunedin City Council support a landlord licence.

Landlords have so much power over their tenants and the only requirement to become one is enough money to own a house. The result is that a lot of landlords act as if the law doesn’t apply to them. It takes a student magazine calling them out on their bullshit to have any impact at all.

We need something to keep the fuckers in check. Landlords hold the health and livelihood of their tenants in their hands, and it’s not good enough if they drop the ball.


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