‘In winter I sleep wearing a woollen hat and an extra hoody.’ Your renting horror stories, vol. 2

On Monday we asked for your renting stories, good and bad, and the response so far has been overwhelming. This is the second installment (read part one here), with more to come throughout Rent Week.

I‘ve been back renting in Wellington for the past year. It’s a three bedroom downstairs flat, in a big old 1890s house in Mt Victoria. I pay the most because I have the largest room, but it’s pretty cheap at $190pw (it was $180pw when I first moved in – we didn’t fight the $30pw rent increase, because it is still well below market rent). Gone are the days I rented as a new graduate on Cuba/Ghuznee Streets for $100pw!

But this ‘low’ price comes at a cost. Our flat is quite ‘quirky’ – you have to be thick skinned to live in a place like this. Its high ceilings, big windows, and lack of insulation make it a nightmare to heat. In winter I sleep wearing a woollen hat and an extra hoody. You don’t have to go outside to see your breath.

Two walls of my room are taken up by massive windows. When I first moved in the curtains I was left with were a mess. Because they’re so high they require a ladder to do any repairs (sadly a ladder doesn’t come with the house). I was worried about the impending winter – particularly as a pregnant surrogate – and the landlord hadn’t come to do anything despite the requests. I had to fix the curtains myself: sewing and hanging 3m thermal backed curtains is neither cheap nor easy.

We have a corrugated plastic roof over our bathroom which leaks in the rain. Our landlord curses blames our upstairs neighbours, claiming their cigarette butts are burning holes in the roof. However, the main leak isn’t from the cigarette holes. We also have plants growing through the walls, from the outside in.

Every now and then (possibly when the upstairs tenants shower) my bedroom ceiling leaks, right onto my bed, if I’m sleeping in my bed at the time, bonus.

On the plus side it was one of very few rentals that would allow me to come with a cat. He’s been useful in dealing with mice, but he’s pretty useless with the spiders and ants.

But, maybe with my cheap rent, I’m in better position to save for a place of my own. Based on a quick Google search, with my salary – pretty good for a social worker, but below average for a Wellingtonian – a bank might be able to lend me $398,000 with a $100,000 deposit (which would take me maybe eight years to save – by which time I’ll be 43). If I wasn’t paying off my ridiculously high, non-interest free student loan probably until I’m in my 60s, then maybe I might be able to save for a house sooner.

I can’t afford to have kids; I can’t even afford to foster (I need a minimum 2 bedroom place for that, and that is not affordable on one income). So I’m told I need a partner – two incomes is better than one, they say. Then I read an article just today that said entering into a relationship is one of the biggest financial risks a woman can take. I’m fucked if I do, and fucked if I don’t.

And although I’m frustrated and angry with my current situation, it’s not nearly as bad as the clients that I see on a daily basis, fighting their own horrendous housing battles. / Kim Sheehan

At the end of 2014, before the flatting crisis started getting serious in Wellington, three of my friends and I thought we had it all sussed for the next year and aced our flat. It was a good location, super cheap, and because of the low price we could have a spare room too to chuck all our junk in.

Then we started seeing posts on the Wellington Facebook group Vic Deals – lots and lots of posts, specifically talking about dodgy landlords and agencies, and our property manager’s agency (rhymes with Me Maro Menancies) came up a lot. We thought nothing of it – these must have been bad tenants who caused a ruckus and we were nothing like that. Besides, it was hard to avoid dealing with our agency when they managed the majority of student-suitable apartment blocks in town. We signed the contract and had everything paid by December 2014, ready to move in.

It got to literally the night before our arranged move in date, in February 2015, when our property manager told us there was an issue that meant we couldn’t move in until the following week. Big problem. Big, big problem considering our current lease happened to end the next day as well, making us potentially homeless. Worse, the property manager was not going to help us sort temporary accommodation – even though we signed a contract and they had broken it already. In the end, we got our way and they put us up for the week in one of their backpackers/lodgers/whatever businesses they owned, put our furniture in one of their storage facilities, and after a lot of arm twisting also deducted that week from our rent owed.

The day before our new move in date, we went to check the new place out. Disaster, again. The place was an absolute state. All the window sills were covered in empty bottles (props to the then tenants, I’d say there were well over 100), the bathrooms were stained, none of the lights worked, and there were broken pieces of furniture everywhere. Not somewhere you’d want to move in to. We complained, the property manager contacted the old tenants, they were made to come clean up that night, and we were told again we could move in the next morning.

As you’d come to expect by now after reading all that, the place was not tidy the next morning. I’m not talking, oh there was still some hair on the carpet. I’m talking rotting food in the fridges and cupboards (one cupboard had vomit in), broken furniture still laying around, food burnt onto the stove top and inside the oven, and condoms clogging the toilets (I know!). Another phone call, another visit from the property manager, and another argument later, they arranged for one of their cleaners to come over for an hour to help out. The whole mess took two days to clean, and weeks to get the smells out, but hey they helped for an hour. Also, to top it all off, our bond wasn’t lodged for months.

We took them to the tenancy tribunal, and we won. They didn’t even show up to argue their case. We won three weeks rent as compensation for the state of the apartment and the fact the bond was never lodged. If you look on the tenancy tribunal website, you see a whole list of cases that have been brought against this property agency and all the times they have lost or simply not showed up.

We thought that would be the end of all the hassle, and decided to live there for two years because it wasn’t that bad of a place once we spruced it up. We also never once had an inspection in those two years, which none of us are complaining about. Come time for us to move out this past February, we again had hassles dealing with them and getting our bond refund. They claimed we were in arrears, as they did multiple times over the course of our tenancy, and we had to show them our bank statements to prove we had fully paid up, as we did multiple times over the course of our tenancy. Six weeks after moved out we got our bond back, and we are bloody relieved to never deal with that company again. / Eilish M

Recently we were forced to move out of our home. For months we had warned our property managers that the floor was sloping, the floor tiles were cracking, and with each downpour it was getting worse. Finally a new property inspector must have forced the point with the owners of our home and after engineers reports it was decided that major structural repairs were immediately necessary. We were asked to find a new place to live as soon as possible. Preferably before March. Days after signing a new lease and having our rent go up by $30 a week (and bond going up to reflect the new rent costs).

This was shocking, upsetting and destabilising in itself. The real insult was when I realised over two and a half years we had paid nearly $90,000 in rent.

During that time we struggled continuously to get anything other than the basics repaired. Downstairs had a water pump that would stop working every four months – often, joyfully, on a Friday afternoon, leaving me with no water all weekend. It came to light that it was designed to pump the water from a toilet – not the toilet, shower, washing machine, tub, hand basin and kitchen sink. Our oven never worked properly from the time we moved in. We could not bake or roast anything. Two years later the stove finally died as well and the unit was replaced with the cheapest one on the market. We asked at every inspection for rotten, dangerous decking and stairs to be replaced. We fought mould. The roof leaked terribly during heavy rains. I couldn’t open my external door in winter, and couldn’t keep it closed in the summer. We paid a faceless man $90,000 for this. We know the rent will be a lot higher for any tenant in that house following the repairs.

Yet this was a very good standard of living compared to other rentals we had been in. This house was rented through an agency and they were good when things would completely crap out. My shower was repaired the day after it broke. The paint and carpet were tidy and fresh. It wasn’t insanely cold. Other houses we were not so lucky. One house was literally making us ill year-round with extreme mould and lack of insulation. One house ravaged our furniture with borer. Other houses would conduct illegal inspections or refuse to help with basic repairs. We had experienced vague accusations of altering premises (not true), direct accusations of having illegal pets (we didn’t) and no support when trying to deal with meth addict and frighteningly abusive neighbours.

We are used to the trials of renting, especially in the Auckland climate. It takes a lot to rattle us. Experiencing eviction was actually traumatic. The fight to have a major structural issue recognised when we could have been lazy and ignorant tenants and kept the roof over our head for a bit longer was just as stressful. We have been very lucky to move into a fully insulated and modernised house where our landlord wants us to feel like we are at home, which has cushioned the blow somewhat. But I am exhausted by the culture of renting. The unsympathetic landlords, the dishearteningly business-like property managers, the stress of trying to apply for a place and hoping you beat the other 30 people who came to the viewing. The frustration when you apply for viewings online, like they tell you to, and you never receive a response. The increasingly intrusive inspections. The constant stream of money leaving your pocket; the complete gamble on whether the landlords are going to be decent people who look after their investments and tenants, or whether they’re going to give you the finger while counting your money.

We do occasionally find a good landlord or property manager. We are in such a position now and it makes a huge difference to our sense of security and wellbeing. They are not so uncommon. But their willingness to engage does vary wildly and it becomes difficult to predict what you are getting into. Even with a property management company the rules seem to be interpreted quite differently between employees.

We are good tenants. We want a quiet, clean home with working appliances and utilities. We make sure our homes are kept in good order, both visually and structurally. We do not want recurrent bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses, we do not want to be too scared to stand on our shower floors, we do not want to be informed that our property managers have illegally entered the property. We do not want doors that will not shut or our waste water and raw sewerage flooding our decks because of a refusal to equip a house properly. We do not want to have our furniture destroyed or our concerns regarding the safety and integrity of the building ignored. We pay a lot of money and expect basic levels of sanitation, dryness, safety and accessibility. We are trying to help you, landlords, and frankly sometimes we don’t want to because we know that half the time it’s not going to help us. But we are decent human beings who don’t want bad things for other people so we do it anyway.

It would be great if that went both ways. / Amy Zander

Two years ago, I was asked to leave my flat (totally on good terms, but I’m pretty sure the rooms are now rented out to two people each in a tiny house across the road from Auckland Domain). I wanted to make sure my next flat was great, I wanted my room to be big enough, and I wanted to really get on with the flatmates. I was at Auckland University about halfway through my PhD and really looking for a place that would let me walk to the Newmarket Campus where the brewery used to be. So I looked for places in Grafton, Eden Terrace, Kingsland, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Parnell and Mount Eden (while we’re on the subject, if you live south of Balmoral Road, you’re in Mount Roskill – please stop saying you live in Mount Eden because you’re not convincing anyone and I don’t need you coming up in my TradeMe searches).

I went to a lot of viewings. At least three or four a week. Everyone does viewings differently. They range from being shown around the place followed by a chat with all the flatmates living there (probably the nicest type of viewing), to ones where one of the flatmates shows you around the place as you see other flatmates walking around other applicants and they half-ass answer your questions, to the ones where they just invite every applicant to arrive at the same time. Please don’t do that last one, it’s weird. This was my life for the next year, and I was rejected from all but one – a bunch of engineers who I got on with well, but the room was too small, slightly too expensive, and had two walls made of glass and one made from a thin sheet of processed wood – so I had to turn it down.

Since I was sending out so many applications, and not getting accepted to all of them, I wanted to try and tweak things to see where I was going wrong. That wasn’t such a hard nut to crack. Turns out that if I introduce myself as “Mahmood”, I get half the responses that I get as “Moody”. Way to go, Auckland.

Some viewings got really weird. There was this one guy who told me he had two rooms available, which meant my chances were great. He had also just been through a massive break-up, which he proceeded to tell me about. Then he saw a girl jogging by and commented on how nice her ass was, which was when he realised he wanted a couple of girls to move in so he could try to hook up with one of them. He texted me afterwards and told me he’d love to be mates and to come around if I ever felt like it. I didn’t.

It’s nerve-wracking being there against 20 other applicants and not knowing how to stand out. If you stand out too much, you’re weird. If you don’t stand out at all, everyone forgets you. You need to medium stand out. I’m not good at medium standing out. I ranged from trying to come across as totally cool and easy-going, saying I liked cooking, telling them I’m not a neat-freak but I have a thing about dishes. I brew beer, haha, yes I brought some and it’s totally a bribe! Oh what are my other interests? I’ve been learning about keeping bees recently, but I’m not sure I want to do it just yet, but it seems interesting. I was rejected with my favourite text I’ve ever received:

/ Mahmood Hikmet

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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