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Your renting horror stories vol. 3 ft. celebs Bob Odenkirk and an ex-Shortland Street star

On Monday we asked for your renting stories, good and bad, and the response so far has been overwhelming. This is the third and final installment – for now (read part one here and part two here).

Better Call Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk rented before he was famous:

I lived in the basement of an apartment building. It wasn’t the smallest place, but it was kind of gross and it had a radiator that banged really hard, all the time. I lived over a bar, that was actually pretty cool but it could be noisy at times. I lived over a pie shop which smelled like pies which isn’t the worst thing in the world. It had a lot of roaches but I didn’t seem to care.

I shared that space with three other guys, so if you go back to real hovels that I lived in, I have to go back to college where I shared a trailer with another guy in Illinois. That was a…crappy little crappy craphole. The bedroom was the size of a bed and it had paneling that was coming off the walls. There wasn’t much of what you’d call wall in it.

Ex-Shortland Street star who lived in an old brothel:

This was the first place I lived in when I moved out of home. One of the oldest buildings in Auckland, the brothel (so named because it used to be a brothel), was one of the most fucked up places I have ever been, let alone lived in. There were spa pools in all the rooms, except for my boyfriend at the time’s – his had floor to ceiling mirrors. There was also a sauna, and one of the rooms had a faux-dungeon vibe going on with fake rocks on the walls etc. We had a lot of parties there, with bands playing, and because the house was such a piece of shit, people used to punch holes in the walls and rip the doors off and tag everywhere.

We shared the house with not only many cockroaches, but also ghosts. Once my boyfriend was jumping down the stairs and when he got to the bottom landing he heard that the space under the boards was hollow. Intrigued, he pulled up them up, and a pile of very small bones were exposed underneath. Animal? Human Baby? We never spoke of it again. Around the same time my flatmate also found a human shit in a bowl in her room. Good times.

Millie Watkins lived in a Waiheke fire trap:

Our last rental on Waiheke was basically a heritage house. It could have been (should have been if heritage counted) a showpiece home, but for over 20 years it had been neglected. Still it was not a cheap rental, at over $400 per week.

When we moved in we discovered ancient wiring that was splitting, exposing wires in the attic where leaks from the roof created a situation so hazardous that the fire marshall counselled that no one should spend another night there without it being fixed. But the fire marshall would not go on record saying that, and there was no agency that would take care of it. Our only recourse was to give notice and then navigate the tenancy tribunal system to try to keep the landlord from renting it again. It was a highly stressful time, and costly assembling all of the reports. In the end, even the electrician would not say it was a hazard, because he relied on business from the property management company we were taking action against.

The landlord was given a slap on the wrist – a verbal scolding – by the tenancy tribunal. The landlord was told they should fix up the property before renting again, that was it. When I asked at the tribunal hearing what the  judge was going to do to avoid issues like this in the future, he described tenancy law in New Zealand as the Wild West, and that it was a laissez faire policy, and left it at that.

Postscript- the landlord did rent it again without doing the necessary work, and the new tenant put her own money into painting and fixing the place up only to be dumped out of her lease early. The landlord sold it on at that point for over $600,000. There is no downside for landlords these days.

Simon Cross was charged rent – for his cat:

Our previous landlord, Challenge Rentals:

· They don’t believe in earthquakes (when queried about the structural safety of mezzanine beds, we were told, “Pray to god not to have earthquakes. If you don’t believe in god, pray to nature instead.”)
· (Unnecessary and invasive) construction work was undertaken at short notice prior to our moving in and workers were still living in the house on move-in date, with bedrooms filled with construction materials
· We were verbally and physically threatened by one of their workers
· Construction work dragged on for eight months of the twelve month lease
· Random workers showed up unannounced (some seeming underage), even on public holidays
· Unsafe retaining wall (refer to earthquake comment), leaning outwards by several degrees, went unremedied
· Wanted to charge an extra $20 per week rent for a cat (in a mouse-infested house) on the grounds it was an additional flatmate
· Sent rude text messages in the middle of the night
· Advertised using (clearly) fake image on their website
· Took pictures of our cleaning standards when on site to view the construction work, not carry out a flat inspection, which they then used against us in the tribunal – a gross breach of privacy.

We faced Challenge Rentals in the Tribunal twice and won (both times). Despite this obvious collapse of the working relationship and feeling unsafe in house (we were eventually fined for changing the lock code without their consent – they refused to do it despite a dozen of their workers having access to the house), we were unable to have the lease terminated early.

Tamzen Dunn’s landlord put a brick through her car window:

With landlords, there are the funny/strange/kind of shitty times where they fart just prior to calling you into a room to talk about washing machine maintenance. Like when one hadn’t realised how severely the foundations of the house had shifted with the construction of the Grey Lynn Audi Transfer Station the few months prior (the house shook like an earthquake almost daily from the groundworks). Showing off the security features of the house he opened a sash window, declared how every door – every window in the house could be secured. The window jammed in the frame halfway down, a 30cm gap left open. This was heading into winter. It didn’t get fixed.

You get used to the week or two it takes for urgent repairs, to windows painted shut, creeping mould in the corners of rooms and earth visible between floorboards, to unannounced arrivals which definitely were not inspections.  You cast reason aside signing on to rolling/rotating tenancies, knowing that the bond was never lodged. You sign to a ‘contract’ one page long with a series of former tenants’ names scrawled on and scribbled out, struggle to find space for your signature, and think it would be almost be funny if this weren’t purporting to be a legal document making you liable for $200 per week. And – always – the rent increases. And never the accompanying improvements.

This is what you get used to, what you live with. Otherwise you might not have a home or get the others booted out. There is such a severe imbalance of power where you pay endlessly and increasingly for an ever-declining resource. Renovations/improvements inevitably precede a sale or “family member moving in” – landlord code for a newer, nicer tenant to better suit the freshly-whitewashed walls.

There is one instance, though, that really stands out.

We were living in a nice, north-facing bungalow at the Kingsland end of Mount Eden. The landlord had been absent for an extended period. Then the renovations started.

The front fence and carport were dismantled. Our mailbox was left on the ground (relationships with your postie quickly sour when you do this). The deck was half-demolished where it stood, reduced to a pile of hoary woodchips underneath its skeletal framework.

We questioned him about it, challenged the necessity of the work being done and the lack of notice. We called the tenancy tribunal, we knew our rights, we still believed in justice.

Turns out he was in a gang.

So the threats started. We would come home to a house with all the doors and windows wide open, ladders propped against the side of the house. He directly threatened one of the flatmates and put a brick through my car window.

The brick, the window

We had police officers telling us you can’t issue a trespass notice against your landlord as I tried to explain that possessory interests overrode ownership. We had police officers telling us to call 111 if he were to show up; the emergency services response was “no”. Or the police would come, and would tell him to continue.

Terrified, we changed the locks. He warped the mechanism in the front door trying to force the old key to turn. We ended up accepting the backdated letter slid under the front door (like that was notice to vacate), and left.

So we found out that there are laws governing tenancy, but no way to enforce them. You have rights on paper and in court but no protections (and no home) in the meantime.

Mandy Scott was attacked by swarms of fleas:

I once turned up to a flat viewing in the height of summer, along with dozens of other people. The place had been done up and was legit gorgeous, however it had obviously been shut-up for quite a number of weeks…. so as soon as we all thronged and thumped inside a literal cloud of previously dormant fleas arose from the carpet and swarmed all over us. But the place was so good, dozens of us stood around twitching and itching and desperately filling in all the forms. As soon as we got home we literally stripped all our clothes off and stood naked in the back yard and hosed ourselves down.

I was ultimately the successful candidate, but only through slight, but not actual (I think), fraud and deception. I did this by taking along my straightest looking friend who resembles the most incredibly wholesome looking Victorian milk-maid, half-suggesting we were sisters looking for a place together. And totally neglecting to mention that I only worked part-time, was on the DPB and had a child. The estate agent was not best pleased when she discovered half the bond was coming from WINZ, but by then it was too late for her to illegally discriminate against me.

Erin Banks developed pneumonia from her flat:

I once lived in a space above a garage in central Wellington which seemed to be a converted office space/staff room.  Constructed entirely from concrete and thin office partition walls the place was incredibly damp – and fighting the mould (on clothing, furnishings and walls) was a constant battle. It wasn’t a rare occurrence for mushrooms to grow out of the wooden steps of the shower.

The concrete construction was deteriorating badly, and occasionally large chunks of the roof would fall to the floor at random like missiles. The roof leaked constantly from several revolving spots – once right over a flatmate’s bed. Repairs took so long he slept huddled around various pots and buckets positioned on top of his bed to catch the drips for months.

The place was freezing from April through to October, and a broken window that faced the Wellington Southerly wind was left covered by nothing patched up cardboard for an entire winter. We all suffered constantly from respiratory infections and would take a long time to recover form simple colds.  After one long running chest infection I eventually developed pneumonia, the health implications of which still cause issues for me years later.

When we called the council to enquire about a delivery of recycling bags they had no record of a residence at our address, and I suspect the flat itself was probably illegal. We never had a tenancy agreement so we paid the cheap rent and just kept quiet.

At the time it seemed like we were living a bohemian artist lifestyle that was in some ways romantic in its awfulness, but we eventually all moved on – realising that actually, this was not ok. We had no rights, and were endangering our health and our selves, as the building in it’s state of disrepair was also listed as earthquake prone. I am pleased to say it has since been demolished.

This post is part of Rent Week, a 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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