People STRUGGLE TO CREATE A STABLE HOME

Peoples’ stories highlight an inability to create a sense of home. They also demonstrate the extreme insecurity caused by actual or possible eviction. Having to move frequently comes with high costs and dislocation from community; even the possibility of moving creates anxiety and makes people who rent reluctant to speak up about problems.

I have learned to just keep some stuff packed and hoard cardboard boxes. I want a place to call home
In the span of two years, I had moved house five times due to landlords deciding to sell.
You will never be able to hang things on the wall, you won’t be able to unpack all your boxes. You have the sense that you don’t really belong anywhere.

 

Challenges of creating a sense of home

Renters are usually prohibited from making changes that would personalise their rental house, for instance putting up pictures, changing the garden or painting. Due to the difficulty of finding a rental place, renters can also be deterred from having pets, which for some, means forgoing another mark of settling and making a home. Renters shared these experiences.

One renter also shared that the landlord’s poor maintenance prevented them from creating a home they could open up to friends.

These examples support the finding of a 2015 survey of 1,099 tenants. In that study, one in four respondents did not feel ‘at home’ in their rental house.

[My landlord recently painted the house]... I do not get to choose the colour and had to take down the pictures that make our house a home and I’m not allowed to put them back up. This makes me feel like a second class citizen.
I really want to own my own home, to have pets, decorate it as I like and buy nice things without worrying other people will wreck it. As a single person right now in Auckland, I will never be able to afford my own home, rented or owned.
We were so stressed and unhappy in that house and it was so embarrasing we couldn’t have a social life. No one was ever invited to our ‘home’.

Insecurity due to actual or possible eviction

A major theme in people's stories was a feeling of insecurity due to actual or possible eviction. Renters on fixed term leases have no guarantee their lease will be renewed. Those on periodic leases may be asked to leave with 90 days notice, or 42 days if the owner’s family will move in or the property is sold. (It is worth noting that these laws contrast starkly with how other countries approach security of tenure. Ireland, for instance, legislated in 2004 to provide renters 4 years security. Scotland provides tenants with unlimited right to remain).

Numerous stories shared in this review were moving, and the high costs and stress involved:

I usually need to move house every 12 months due to landlords selling the house I live in to realise their capital gain. This has happened 3 years in a row and it costs me upwards of $1500 for movers and cleaners and uses up my annual leave. Emotionally exhausting. No security at all when renting.
In the span of 2 years, I had moved house 5 times due to landlords deciding to sell... When I think about it too much, it is really upsetting - the costs of moving are so expensive, with having to have enough liquid assets to afford to cover two bonds at once, and to rent a truck or movers ... and take time off work to do it ... to having to pay double rent if we need to have overlapping days so we can move our things.

Based on existing academic research, these experiences are very common. A 2015 survey of 1,099 tenants found that in the previous two years, nearly half (46 percent) had moved, one third of these because the landlord sold the house.

In this review, people shared the personal impacts of this instability. Stories highlighted how renters feel on tenterhooks, unwilling to put down roots when they expect to be moved on.

 

You feel like you will never be able to hang things on the wall, you won’t be able to unpack all your boxes. You have the sense that you didn’t really belong anywhere.
In the past two years, I’ve lived at five different addresses. ... The regular moving of house ... made it difficult to get to know my neighbours and to participate in community activities and groups.

People highlighted that frequent moves are particularly unsettling for children. One renter shared that his daughter was afraid to make a new best friend, having already said goodbye to several best friends in her short number of years. Academic studies have found that regular moves interrupt children’s schooling and connection with health services.

Other renters shared stories of children having to move:

My son is six and we are having to move again. This will be the fth home we have lived in. It truly breaks my heart to see him upset about moving again.
By the time our youngest child was five we had moved three times. It is really dif cult to build a sense of home or community when this is happening; you can’t put down roots in one place. Everything that our communities provide for kids - school zones, Plunket, kindies etc - assume some kind of permanence in housing. But if you rent, you don’t have it.”

Numerous renters mentioned the anxiety they felt due to the possibility of having to uproot their lives. They expressed worry about an uncertain future, high costs and even homelessness:

I am made to feel as though... we are utterly replaceable...
With stories of rental shortages I feel very vulnerable that we could be homeless at any point. I am constantly anxious that I won’t be able to provide a home for sons... When I walk past a homeless person on the street I am really aware now that this could be me.
The renting situation in New Zealand has left me feeling more stressed and uneasy than I’ve ever felt living in any other country – there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a home in a month, if things change.
I have constant worry about rent increases or the owners coming home to live in their property. The idea of having the stress of moving again is terrifying.
I have been homeless on and off... renting especially under the WINZ system is precarious... I can never be sure when I will be thrown out for something minor, or if the landlord will decide to sell. There is no stability, the landlords have far more rights than tenants do and they know this.

This insecurity cast a black cloud of anxiety over even the best tenancies:

I feel like I am one of the lucky ones in the current Auckland rental market. I have a lovely, modern little unit which is warm and dry... My partner and I want to move in together and that would require me leaving my little haven... And this causes me signi cant anxiety. Will we secure somewhere as nice as my place in the location we need? Will it be warm and dry? Will the property owner decide to sell it from under us?

Particularly noteworthy is the impact of insecure tenure on renters accessing their rights. In numerous stories, renters cited the possibility of eviction as a significant factor preventing them from speaking up to change to their situation.

Why don’t I say anything - demand change
to comply with the new healthy home rental standards? Well I can’t afford to.... Currently the rental agreement has expired. I have asked for a further agreement, but the owner doesn’t want to sign... I have a strong suspicion that we are being allowed to stay till they want to renovate then we will be asked to leave and the rent will be dramatically increased. Why not? There will be queues of people eager to rent the property.
My landlord is a bully... tenants are scared to speak out about him as the housing shortage has made everyone afraid of being kicked out... I just have had so many issues in this home, but I have nowhere else to go and the fear of being kicked into the streets is always on my mind, especially with ve babies in tow.

In summary, renters’ stories highlighted insecurity and instability: the challenges of creating a home, and the exhaustion, anxiety and powerlessness that result from insecurity of tenure.

One renter’s words summarise the result when these conditions are experienced by such a large number of New Zealanders:

We have become a transient class of people, unable to put down roots.