LIMITED OPTIONS MAKE RENTERS DESPERATE

Choosing somewhere to live can be hard. It has to meet your needs - the right size, the right location, the right price, available at the right time, good condition, the list goes on. However choosing is no longer a luxury afforded to most renters today. In many parts of the country, rentals are in short supply or they are not affordable. Some renters have been left homeless because there simply are not homes available for them.

The stories confirmed that renters are facing a highly competitive market, with desperate tenants bidding against each other to try to secure a home. This was the case for an anonymous renter in Auckland.

“Since looking for a rental property I have found that it is a soul destroying exercise. Firstly there is the ‘open home’ of renting. A house is available for viewing for 10 minutes for as many people as wish to see it in that short time. This allows some people an opportunity to offer more than the asking rental figure if they wish, and this means that it can become a quasi auction in which the people with the most money win.”    

HIGH PRESSURE VIEWINGS

Property viewings can be stressful times for renters, as often it’s not about picking the option they most want, but hoping that there will be something available to them. They feel under pressure to take what they can get, even if that means sacrificing their ideals or expectations, possibly paying more than they can afford or living in a cold, damp, unhealthy home. Renters make the best choice they can when faced with less than desirable options, especially when the alternative is homelessness.

Sonja from Dunedin described the house hunting process they saw, saying “As a child-less professional, I was able to fork out the stupid amounts of cash needed for flats of reasonable quality (though sometimes cold), but I saw so many other people - including parents and kids, students, older folk, struggling beneficiaries - who couldn't. They desperately competed for shockingly poor quality rental properties.”

“Unfortunately I couldn't afford to be fussy as I was living in an emergency house prior, and time was nearly up for me to be living there with my kids. Due to affordability and credit issues, this was the only house I got accepted to rent." Anonymous, Whakatane.

Someone, who wised to remain anonymous, shared how the competition for rentals affected their mental health:

“At the first open to view we attend in this pokey small semi detached flat I was greeted with 20 pairs of shoes. Inside there was a maul of people thrusting CV in the rental agents face while shouting why they would make the best tenants. Confined to a small space with all these people I had my first ever panic attack and had to leave. By the time places were being advertised the properties were gone. If I did get a viewing we were turned down. Faced with homelessness in a week's time I broke down in front of a rental agent who had been in my position and she took pity on us and found us a property...”

THE ‘PERFECT TENANT’

The landlord or property manager plays an integral role in the property search for renters. When the competition is so fierce for limited properties and tenants cannot afford to be picky, it’s the landlords who can. One renter in Auckland, who chose to remain anonymous, was surprised just how difficult it was to secure anything, much less something that met their needs.

“When we would get to a rental property there would be massive queues there to check it out. Often it was even pointless going any further than the front gate of the property. My boyfriend and I were turned away as we weren't ‘family enough’. We were struggling to find anywhere. I have everything needed to get a rental: Perfect rental payment history for 19 years, referees from reputable letting agents, above average wage, clear credit history, four years work stability, all the bond, rent and letting fee upfront, and never been unemployed. We ended up taking an overpriced run down house full of mould and leaks and a section that hadn't been tended to for years. We got desperate. It was a scary and frightening experience. How is someone who doesn't have all I have get on? It scares me more to think about it.”

A market this competitive can lead to discrimination. Solo parent families, the unemployed, and people on low incomes can find it particularly difficult to find rental properties. Race is also a factor. A 2006 study found Māori to be 13 times more likely than other New Zealanders to report experiencing discrimination when buying or renting housing. A 2017 survey of 77 Māori renters found that 43 percent had experienced some form of discrimination when searching for a rental home. DiscriminationThis can put even more pressure on tenants, discouraging them from revealing any factor a landlord could use against them to dismiss their chances.

“It is common for landlords or agents to ask for copies of wage slips, bank statements, WINZ benefit details. This request by itself becomes discrimination because of the implication of asking for such detail. It also suggests that if you are not employed your chances of getting a tenancy are less than others who are employed,” wrote one Auckland renter.

“Renting in New Zealand is terrible especially when you have to rely on WINZ for income. I get tired of being discriminated against because of it. You spend your life knowing that you're close to being homeless.” Steph, Whangarei.

Partly due to limited simply, housing is growing less and less affordable in New Zealand, according to the latest research. Between 2000 and 2016, average rents increased faster than average wages. These costs have put many families into “housing stress” - typically defined as spending more than 30 percent of after-tax income on housing costs. Thirty percent of New Zealand households (homeowners and renters) fit this definition. Even the accommodation supplement does not alleviate this pressure. In June 2016, almost all renters (94%) receiving the accommodation supplement were in housing stress. Half spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs. Unaffordable housing limits renters’ ability to heat their homes. It also leads to overcrowding, which negatively impacts health. Roughly one fifth of rented homes are crowded.

STUCK AND OUT OF OPTIONS

After navigating the turbulent rental market and securing somewhere to live, it’s not surprising renters are hesitant to change. They’re not necessarily happy or healthy in their homes, but may feel too anxious to change things, and so end up feeling trapped. Moving takes time and money, and even if they can afford that, the new place could end up being of equal or worse quality, not to mention the challenge of finding somewhere new in the first place. People can feel disempowered and stuck in their situations, and/but may not have any other options.

A renter in Tauranga, who wished to remain anonymous, said “I cannot afford to live here anymore, but I cannot afford to move, and there is nowhere to move to.”