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I’ve lived in 11 different rentals, from Porirua to Hataitai, and almost everywhere in between.. (Image by Tina Tiller)
I’ve lived in 11 different rentals, from Porirua to Hataitai, and almost everywhere in between.. (Image by Tina Tiller)

WellingtonFebruary 22, 2024

A story of Wellington’s housing in 11 rentals

I’ve lived in 11 different rentals, from Porirua to Hataitai, and almost everywhere in between.. (Image by Tina Tiller)
I’ve lived in 11 different rentals, from Porirua to Hataitai, and almost everywhere in between.. (Image by Tina Tiller)

In the 11 years I’ve lived here, I’ve moved 11 times. As part of the War for Wellington, I’m laying bare my housing journey.

I first moved to Wellington as a first-year student in 2013. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the city, and as a result, I never left. I’d grown up in Auckland, and absolutely no one blamed me for switching loyalties. 

But in the 11 years I’ve lived here, I’ve moved house 11 times. I’ve lived in 11 different rentals, from Porirua to Hataitai, and almost everywhere in between. I’ve had good landlords and bad property managers; the rare sunny room and that Wellington rite of passage, mould in the walls.

Every move felt inevitable, the result of circumstance, like I was a helpless leaf being blown about in the housing equivalent of Wellington’s ridiculous winds. But looking back, there were patterns. If I’d had the option, I would have rented an apartment on my own, and built a cosy, safe paradise. But every time I went flat hunting, I couldn’t afford the bare minimum.

Moving 11 times is rough. It always costs you to leave a home, and not just financially. It’s hard to put down roots if you don’t stay in one place. Good, reliable housing is about safety in every sense of the word. With rents rising and a shrinking supply, we’re all playing dice with dodgy “character” homes, terrible property managers (here’s looking at you, Quinovic!) and our own health. 

No one should ever be priced out of feeling safe. I think we can all agree on that.

So as part of the War for Wellington, I’m laying bare my housing journey. All the ups, downs and in betweens. The found families, the messy breakups. All the places I’ve ever called home.

1. The Terrace

Harsh tenancy rules meant we had to keep our dog secret at one of our flats. (Photo supplied)

My first Wellington home was my uni dorm, on floor 11 of Joan Stevens Hall. I’d chosen to join the non-alcoholic floor, and it was hands down the best housing decision I’ve ever made. We could still go out if we wanted to, but no one ever blocked our kitchen sink with vomit or threw a chair through the hallway ceiling. Win-win.

My room was similar to a lot of dorm rooms: long and narrow with limited space to start a riot. But the real perk of living on the top floor was the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the motorway. In what was probably a privacy error, I always left the blinds open. I’d watch the lights of cars at night and stargaze from my bed.

It was warm, safe, and aside from one time when a drunk lad peed in my closet, dry. We were well insulated from the renting realities of power bills and power struggles. I still miss the Christian-sponsored waffle nights, amen.

2. Northland

My second home was a split-level house shared with three of my Joan Stevens friends. It was this cottage-esque dwelling with ivy growing all around the entrance and a weirdly large kitchen. 

Our property manager was this lovely blonde woman. We felt safe with her as first-time renters. A quiet, older gentleman lived in the unit below, and we’d sometimes hear him laughing at his TV. It was all very idyllic.

Then, the lovely blonde woman was fired, and we found out that the man below us was, in fact, our landlord. Without the intermediary of a property manager, he started showing up at our door to discuss property issues, which was within his rights, but felt excessive. He also stared at us on the bus and sent us emails about where we kept our trash. Suddenly, it wasn’t our home anymore, just someone else’s house we were living in.

When our lease was up, he took us to the Tenancy Tribunal for $10,000 because I’d accidentally warped the wood of the bathroom vanity drawers with tom yum soup (long story). He submitted a sheaf of documents and gave a lengthy, unrelated monologue to support his case, which the judge dismissed entirely. Apparently, due to depreciation rules, the vanity was worthless, and we owed him nothing at all.

He left with $75, which we volunteered from our bond to make the nightmare end. Even though he’d been thoroughly trounced, I felt defeated.

3. Hataitai

After Northland, my flatmates all left Wellington for good, and I struggled to find a new place to live. Luckily, a friend of mine let me sleep on his couch for a bit while I attended open homes. It smelled, but the transiently homeless can’t be choosy.

Eventually, I found this incredible room in Hataitai, overlooking the water. It had this little balcony I could access through my window, and the landlords were this cute, responsive elderly couple. Highly recommend.

But after four months, one of my new flatmates started getting aggressive with me. He’d been kind at first, but once we’d really gotten to know each other, it was like a mask slipped. That’s the thing about moving in with strangers – you don’t always know what they’re like, ‘til you know.

I didn’t feel safe anymore, so I moved out as soon as I could. Well, sooner than I could, actually – it was back to the couch for me.

I love my current rental, but how long will it last? (Photo supplied)

4. Kelburn

I found a new room in Kelburn, in a house nicknamed The Nunnery. It was a standalone granny flat in the landlords’ backyard, only granny flats don’t usually need five bedrooms. We had to climb up this massive steep driveway and walk through this little suburban wilderness to get to the front door. It was a daily mini adventure.

Unlike my previous homes in Wellington, this was very much a party flat. I wasn’t very good at it to be honest, but I did my best. It felt like I was back in high school, only my friend’s parents weren’t around to make sure we didn’t do anything stupid. And I definitely did a lot of stupid.

Once again, at the end of the year, all us flatmates decided to go our separate ways. Luckily for me, I’d started dating someone, and he was happy enough for me to move in with him.

5. Tawa

My new boyfriend lived in a three-bedroom flat in Tawa, with his two best friends from high school. We lived on a road that was half social housing, half wealthy homes – and ours was the end with the threadbare carpets and freezing cold winters.

The property was managed by Quinovic, and they were shit. Our concerns were routinely ignored. The shower head leaked into the adjacent wall, and they didn’t fix it until the skirting board rotted away to reveal a thriving colony of black mould. 

To be fair, we weren’t the perfect tenants: we were forbidden from owning any pets, but we had a secret dog anyway. I get that landlords want to avoid damage to property, but restricting how renters live has always felt archaic, like I was some undeserving serf who didn’t respect the… well, Lord. Of land.

The rental system in Aotearoa has never felt like a meeting of equals.

6. Porirua

We were rescued from Tawa by my boyfriend’s mum, who’d just moved into a new place and rented us her old one at well under market rate.

Other than my uni hall, it was the best place I’d lived in by far – nepotism really pays. Our new house was a family home on top of a hill. And it felt it. There was more than enough room for all four of us, and best of all, our dog no longer had to be kept secret. I watched him running through the backyard like a hooligan, and knowing I couldn’t be kicked out for it was a real weight off my shoulders.

I lived in this house for more years than I should have. As I finished my degree and moved into my first ever salaried job, my relationship was on its last legs. But I held on for dear life, for years and years and years. I told myself it was because I was hopeful things would work out between us. But really, a large part of it was because I didn’t want to move. Again.

7. Central City

The day finally arrived when I had to face the truth: we weren’t working out and I had to leave. I couldn’t exactly kick him out of his own mother’s house. He got the bed, and our art prints, and the new dyson vacuum cleaner we’d just bought. He got the dog.

I moved into my brother’s flat, a seven-bedroom central apartment that was completely empty while he and his flatties were in Auckland for the summer. My mum helped me scrub every sticky surface in the place, which was all of them. And then she left, and I was suddenly living alone for the first time in my life.

I’m pretty sure that this flat is now illegal to rent under the Healthy Homes Standards, but at the time, I couldn’t have cared less. I loved the freedom of having space to myself, even if it meant I had to take showers using my phone torch because there was no light in the bathroom. Or that I couldn’t open the kitchen windows without being overrun by pigeons.

I’d wander Courteney place at night, soaking in the heady summer atmosphere. First-year students were trickling back into the city and the alcoholic crowds were easy to get lost in. It was the perfect place to heal a broken heart, and the best bit was that it was rent-free.

8. Mairangi – Hobbiton

All of us had issues in this flat, and we definitely clashed. (Photo supplied)

When summer was over, I moved in with an old friend. She and her cousin lived in this six-bedroom property that had been divided into two separate flats; one above, one below.

While this meant more cash flow for our landlord, it definitely meant less space for us. We didn’t really have a living room; more a waiting space separating the kitchen and toilet. Our bedrooms were side by side, off a single long corridor – think hobbit hole. A girl in the flat above was studying opera, and her practice sessions became the soundtrack of our lives.

I think all of us had issues in this flat, and we definitely clashed. By the time I moved out, my flatmate was threatening to file a police report over ownership of a $10 hammer (long story). But finding a replacement was the real nightmare. No one wanted my room, and my flatmates were happy to let me pay double rent for all eternity. I was dipping into my savings to pay for a situation I desperately wanted out of.

Finally, I had to be ruthless. I broke the periodic tenancy for all of us, and we all moved out.

9. Berhampore

By this point, my salary had increased enough that I could afford a little more luxury. I moved into a newbuild townhouse with my friend Vicky and one other flatmate. It was the most expensive place I’ve ever lived in, 155% more than what I’d paid for my first-ever room less than a decade ago.

Townhouses make the most of the space they have. Our flat was narrow, but never actually felt cramped. Plus, Vicky was basically family. When we worked from home together, he’d bring me chai in the morning in his pajamas. It was so appreciated, by both me and the colleagues I was video calling at the time.

He and our other flatmate were building their own homes in far-flung suburbs, which felt like a pipe dream to me. Our time together always had an expiration date.

10. Aro Valley

We were grateful this place was a new build, but my room was still quite dark and damp. (Photo supplied)

While Vicky and I were living large in Berhampore, I’d actually started seeing someone special. And it was becoming increasingly clear that this was the real deal. My brother, who’d never liked my ex, decided that the new guy was good for me seven seconds after meeting him. My mum was already picking out designs for my wedding sari. 

So when it was time to move, I decided to live with him. He and a few high school friends were living together in a six-bedroom student flat in Aro Valley, sandwiched against another six-bedroom student flat. Again, our landlord’s cash flow must have been wild.

My partner and I mainly stayed in his room, which was just as well, because mine was dark and a little damp. Our house had been built close to a steep bank, which blocked out a lot of natural light. We were grateful it was a new build, because anything older would have been pretty miserable through the winter. But the house was well insulated, and we stayed warm. Our property manager loved us. And I felt safe. 

11. Karori

When our lease ended, we decided to move up in the world, literally, to Karori. It’s so suburban that our neighbours were suspicious of five young adults moving in, replacing the nuclear family they were used to. But other than when the local cats break through our rubbish bags and scatter trash on the shared driveway, there haven’t been any issues. We love it here, and we feel at home.

I’ve gotten so used to being transient that I’ve pared down my belongings to the bare minimum. I’m really good at packing furniture into a trailer, and I can Marie Kondo with the best of them. While this new place is the best yet, I know it’s not permanent. Nothing is, it feels, in the Wellington rental market.

The District Plan is a chance to change all this. To increase the number of good homes available, and decrease the number of dodgy landlords offering damp housing. To make living alone more affordable, so we can have space if we need it. To stop dogs from ever having to be secret.

Because the truth of the matter is, it’s actually cheaper to rent in Auckland. And with the way things are going, well, no one would blame me for switching loyalties.

Keep going!