From the hundreds of experiences shared with us, several distinct themes came through strongly. These are listed below. We noticed that through each theme, renters often mentioned experiences that stripped them of dignity - something closely linked to having a sense of home, belonging, and taking pride in one’s identity. We heard stories of how many parts of the renting experience left people unable to preserve their dignity, and feeling like second-class citizens.

Quality of housing affects quality of life

Living in poor conditions - cold, damp, often unsafe and unfit houses - seriously affects other areas of renters’ lives. People described homes that made them and their families constantly sick, forcing them to take time off work and school, and never properly getting better. When staying at home is what  makes renters unwell, more time at home ‘recovering’ doesn’t help. Renters shared the stress they felt when taking time off work might put their job at risk, or mean they could no longer afford their heating bill. We heard about homes that were not only cold and damp, but hazardous in other serious ways, with parents worried about keeping their kids safe at home. All of these things can, and often do, take a toll on renters’ mental health.

Limited options make renters desperate

Renting can make people feel trapped. The stories highlighted that renters make the best choice they can when faced with a series of less than desirable options, especially when the alternative is homelessness, but they’re not necessarily happy or healthy in their homes. Finding a home requires competing against other desperate renters for poor quality or overpriced homes. The house hunting process is often a stressful one, and some renters described feeling discriminated against in the application process. Securing a property is an achievement in itself. It’s not surprising renters may feel too anxious to change things. Moving takes time and money, and even if they can afford that, the new place could end up being equally or even more substandard. It’s a risk. We heard from people who felt disempowered and stuck in their situations, but didn’t think they had any other options.

Renters struggle to create a stable home

Renters feel insecure and struggle to create a sense of home. In many stories, renters shared how it feels to be unable to personalise their space or do things that help them settle, such as putting up pictures or keeping pets. Their stories also highlight the extreme insecurity caused by actual or possible eviction. Many shared about the expense of having to move house regularly, and how it results in dislocation from community, anxiety and a reluctance to speak up about problems.

Renters feel powerless to challenge landlords

Renters feel powerless. A common theme in the stories was the relative power landlords have over tenants - a dynamic particularly evident in the large number of stories about neglected maintenance and repairs. The stories show that neglected maintenance affects renters’ quality of life, mental health and physical safety and in some cases imposed additional costs. Despite this, renters were reluctant to complain for fear of rent rises or eviction. This provided fertile ground for other types of abuse or illegal behaviour by landlords.

Themes by the numbers

We received 610 responses in total to this review. People were invited to either share a story, or just answer questions about their experience of renting, or do both. Combined, their responses give us a rich insight into the state of renting in 2017 from across Aotearoa.

Here’s a breakdown of the themes of the stories:

Condition of home
33 percent about something needing fixing
41 percent about the landlord or property manager
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29 percent about how their housing was affecting their health
7 percent were about making a complaint to the Tenancy Tribunal

We also asked people some basic questions which would be included as part of a Rental Warrant of Fitness check. The results:

70 percent reported that their place does not have ceiling or underfloor insulation
52 percent reported their rented home was not weathertight
61 percent that their home did not have a fixed form of effective heating
27 percent reported some of their light switches and power outlets appeared unsafe