Spinoff series – rent week

Written By: - Date published: 12:51 pm, March 27th, 2017 - 58 comments
Categories: class war, housing, journalism - Tags: , , , ,

While much of the coverage of the housing crisis focuses on buyers, the situation facing renters is just as bad. Last week The Spinoff ran an excellent series on renting in NZ. Editor Duncan Greive summed up:

After rent week: we know renting in NZ is a disaster. But it can be fixed

We first mooted a Spinoff ‘rent week’ in late 2016. It was based on the idea that the stories of home ownership were being told constantly, but the challenges and evolving reality of renting were being covered far less frequently. Additionally, because a number of our young staff were looking for flats at the time, we had a sense that the market was getting pretty freaky out there. Fifty or 100 people turning up to look at properties, letting agents mysteriously renegging on agreements, secret bidding wars which saw potential tenants offering $20-$100 more than the weekly asking rent to secure a property – all this appeared to be bedded in.

That was just to secure a tenancy. The dismal realities of renting on this country also felt ripe for appraisal, in blackly comic style. It seems everyone you know has lived in multiple properties featuring some combination of damp, mould, cold, rodents, intrusive landlords and terrifying flatmates. We felt that would be fertile ground to explore from a writing perspective.

While those might seem like quite different angles in, they stem from the same place: renting in New Zealand is one of the most lightly regulated activities in this country. When you go out for dinner or a drink, put a car on the road or keep livestock in the city, those activities are covered by some combination of law, regulation and licensing. For whatever reason, your home escapes such scrutiny.

Last week was the second-biggest for pageviews in Spinoff history. Over 30 different stories had 3,000 or more views. Peter Newport’s shocking report on the situation in Queenstown (more on that later) was read 25,000 times, and led the Herald online for hours after they syndicated it two days later.It was less the numbers than the emotion which overwhelmed, though. We’ve never had such a barrage of emails and comments from readers. We ended up publishing a record number of reader submissions, from bleak stories of bad rentals, to a landlord decrying other landlords’ callousness, to the venerable Citizens Advice Bureau informing tenants of what rights they do have, and followed up on a half-dozen more.

But even a cursory engagement with what rent week became will have made it clear that our current laws around tenants and tenancy are not fit for purpose. They were designed in a different era, one which fundamentally assumed that renting is a brief weigh station en route to ownership.

As Core Logic data released just yesterday shows, that’s just not a reality any more. In the first three months of this year, 44% of Auckland property was purchased by investors. Over half of our 15+ population live in rentals. And while the inaccessibility of purchase remains a major problem and contributor to our housing crisis, it’s also a pernicious one which will take years if not decades to resolve.

It’s getting desperate out there.

Which is why, over the next six months, we’ll be asking our politicians what they intend to do about renting. Like the housing crisis, this is a problem with many authors. It’s been brewing for decades, but a combination of an ageing housing stock, a national fear of investing in shares or businesses and the over-crowding the housing crisis has wrought has brought it to a boil.

Now that we have a sense of just how much it means to our readers, we’ll dedicate part of our election coverage (the shape of which we’ll announce in the next week or so) to following this issue. In so doing we’ll find out which parties care about it sufficiently to deserve your vote.

Read all The Spinoff’s Rent Week coverage here

Read the series on The Spinoff – great work from the team.  Look out for coverage of responses from the political parties…

58 comments on “Spinoff series – rent week”

  1. AsleepWhileWalking 1

    I appreciate all coverage of our housing crisis, the thought being if housing issues saturate our media then it becomes impossible to deny.

  2. Keith 2

    Okay, it’s undeniable that there is serious problems with our housing market that are growing, be it availability, ownership or renting. This is obvious.

    What is not obvious is in this building boom is even big building companies are losing money, namely Fletchers, and worse, small companies are going broke. This is in part because of rampant speculation and the time delay between the agreed to price of a home and its completion date. Building firms have to cope with a shortage of tradesmen and equipment that means completion dates blow out and blatant profiteering by suppliers which means substantial differences in costs.

    This is leading to some projects stalling and is seeing situations now where the buyer cannot buy off the plans and know the end price, which is eye watering anyway. It is cowboy shit and very risky.

    This boom does not address infrastructure problems and Auckland is currently groaning under the shortage of road space and raw sewer contaminating everything including our harbours. Councils are losing the battle to do anything to address these problems from Nationals lassez faire – nonchalant approach to this nightmare.

    It is exactly the kind of thing that happens when there is NO planning for large scale housing projects. It is exactly what you would expect if your pet cat planned a housing development boom for New Zealand. This is exactly what you get from the invisible hand of the market and fuckwits like Nick Smith!

    It is obvious National have:
    A) No plan to fix it
    B) No will to fix it
    C) No idea how to fix it

    In respect of C, many of the issues are its making, no planning, immigration & low pay, the two are intertwined, no will to regulate the rental market, no will to tax speculation ruthlessly and virtually no will to deal to speculating anyway so it most likely goes back to points A and B.

    So with so many people negatively affected why is this not showing up in polls?

    • saveNZ 2.1

      Q, So with so many people negatively affected why is this not showing up in polls,

      A, because 65% of people are temporarily better off as their house outstrips their wages and of the 35% affected only about 30% of them vote. Don’t think just because people are young, they vote Green or left.

      Gen x and Y are the generation brainwashed by neoliberalism from Labour and National.

      And the second reason is that Labour and Greens liberal views don’t want to acknowledge the real reason for the housing shortage or take any heavy action on the real cause.

      After that big demand issue, there is the investment issue, to do with wages, gig economy and how piss poor NZ is on encouraging investment outside of construction post 1990’s.

      Likewise now we have opened our country up to foreign ownership in a huge way and also encouraged tax havens and easy gambling flights into SkyCity where you can also pick up a property or 2.

      I’m sympathetic to how awful it is to be renting and have little hope of a house or rental on NZ wages, but if you want to avoid making it worse, then vote Natz out.

    • JanM 2.2

      I have no sympathy at all for developers – they sent the best builders to the wall years ago with their lying, cheating ways. I wouldn’t encourage my family to go anywhere near the building industry – being deliberately bankrupted over and over is too much for most people to bear 🙁

    • Antoine 2.3

      > It is exactly the kind of thing that happens when there is NO planning for large scale housing projects. It is exactly what you would expect if your pet cat planned a housing development boom for New Zealand. This is exactly what you get from the invisible hand of the market and fuckwits like Nick Smith!

      Actually, it’s what you get from Auckland Council (among others).


      • Richard McGrath 2.3.1

        It’s what happens when new supply is choked off by council bureau-rats and the RMA

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          If that were true (and it isn’t – why do you tell so many lies?), how would it prevent central government building houses?

        • saveNZ

          Yep keep that right wing discourse going Richard McGrath…

      • Keith 2.3.2

        You will not deal with the fundamental problems blaming straw men like the RMA or bloody councils. Go to the source to fix it!

        I don’t recall Auckland Council wanting to cling to power by promoting what is in essence open immigration and tourism for “growth” without first having the infrastructure to deal with it. No, it was your National Party blundering fuckwittery that is the reason for that.

        As a ratepayer and plenty of people like me I have to pick up the tab on Nationals last brain fart, deregulated building and leaky homes, that councils have somehow had to cover the cost of because they did not comply with the rules. So if you think councils are a little sensitive about obeying the laws parliament set them then there’s a good place to start.

        But obfuscation is the way of the world nowadays isn’t it.

  3. saveNZ 3

    Isn’t the Spinoff the Herald’s faux little sister to preach right wing ideology to the new generation of liberals?

    I bet they never mentioned what is causing the ‘demand’ factor that has led to the rental shortages.

    I still remember Granny right before the election leading a huge furore about poor first home owners – Labour took the bait, put up super and put in capital gains and we got stuck with the Natz fuckers for 3 more years.

    Spinoff also advised voters to vote in the Auckland council elections against lefty Mike Lee and tick Ralston instead. The unitary plan was a must to solve the housing affordability issue according to the Spinoff as unregulated development is the only way to solve the housing crisis, however no affordability criteria let alone sustainability was even in the unitary plan.

    So fuck off Spinoff and stop stirring to keep the Natz in power.

    I’m sure everybody understands there is a rental crisis and when you push in 100,000’s of extra people into a city and country that is when you run out of houses.

    • Antoine 3.1

      I think you’re mixed up, the Spinoff is pretty consistently left.


      • adam 3.1.1

        I think you need to put your crack pipe down Antoine. The spinoff is liberal, so pretty much labour or the national party. And neither of those are left.

      • saveNZ 3.1.2

        Spinoff’s more centre right. It’s the herald for younger people with ‘funky’ look but the same propaganda for it’s right wing advertisers… In fact Spinoff is more about paid promotion than news… but I guess they are open about it in most cases…

        • Antoine

          All I can say is that it seems like Pravda to me

          Why would a right wing rag be doing an expose of bad rental conditions??

  4. Sabine 4

    behind the shop that i used to occupy in AKL lives a young pacific islander family. two adults one three year old.

    In the last floods in West Akl they too were flooded. Badly.
    No it took them about a week for the Agent to come around and inspect the property. A carpenter duly came and took out the carpet and underlay, hung both over the fence to dry and he told the women to run the fan/heater to dry out her flat.
    She is on a glow bug. So that did not happen, and she asked the dairy lady for help. Together whith the dairy lady they emptied up the house, cleaned everthing out, streched out the carpets and underlay for proper drying and that was it.

    She now lives with her husband and her child in a flat that is semi dry, with flood damaged underlay and carpet and is too scared to say anything lest she ends up homeless.

    Brigther futures.

    • weka 4.1

      yikes. Auckland, isn’t that now a mould incubator?

      What’s a glow bug?

      • Antoine 4.1.1

        Prepay electricity meter. Key point being she couldn’t afford the power to run the fan heater to dry the place out.

        I will speak for myself, If I was the landlord above I would be happy for the tenant to contact me, and I would pay the power bill myself to get the place properly dry. And do whatever else was necessary for their comfort during the drying process. (I would also try to get a real drying firm in, not just a carpenter with a blow heater, but I don’t know if it would be possible to obtain one promptly when so many other houses were affected. Further I would have made sure that someone was around there well before a week was out.)

        If however I found out that the tenant had been keeping the property in a wet and water damaged condition for an extended period without telling me, I would have them chucked out and try to use the bond to repair the damage.

        Both tenants and landlords have responsibilities.


        • Sabine

          you try contacting a landlord who lives in india.

          I had rented a shop of him and saw him once in three years – He handed us over 10 grand worth of ‘invoices’ that he forgot to oncharge us over the three years we rented the place – and did so to the other three shops in the same block. Two days before christmas. We had a good laugh, and reminded him that he has certain responsibilities under NZ law.

          It really is about time that people pull their head out of their backside, cause shit does not smell like roses, no matter how deluded one might be.

          50% of all of AKL rentals is rubbish, and this i was told by a person from Akl Council when i called years ago in regards to a rental that had duct tape where it should have had pitch flashing. The roof was so waterlogged that the water came through everywhere at once, the door frame moved from the wall and cracks appeared all over the walls (this literally happened within one week, the roofer that i called went up, laughed, and told me to move out pronto before that roof came down on me) . That was a 300$ plus rental over 10 years ago. i still have the pictures of this house. I was told by that housing guy (inspections ) that to have this house condemned it literally needed to fall down on me, his words, if we were to condemn every house in AKL that needed condemning we would loose over 50% of our rental housing overnight.

          I really wish that the ‘landowners’ that are doing the right thing would actually understand that you are the minority. You are not the standard setters.

          And again, try contacting your Landlord who lives in India, and who will tell you to move on if you don’t like it.
          She, her hubby and the child do not have the luxury to move on, they have no where to move.

          Brighter futures for some, mold, disease and rheumatic fever for others.

          • Antoine

            More fool this landlord, his house will be badly damaged by the moisture from the sound of it

            • Sabine

              you don’t get it?

              his ‘house’ will be demolished and the land will be onsold for a lot more money than he ever paid for thanks to the unitary plan.

              Again, do not look at this from your perspective, look at it from an investors point of view.

              He rents the place until it kills someone, then mea culpa who would have thought, he might gets slapped with a hundred dollar fine, the block of flats will be demolished and a new block of flats will be build by a new developer. Landlord smiles all the way to the bank.

              Rinse fucking repeat.

              The only ones paying for this type of shit is the tax payer via Accommodation Supplements for people to rent these shit holes, and the admission to emergency departments when people are so sick that literally they can’t breathe anymore.

              These guys are not landlords, they are slum lords. And over half of AKL and the rest of NZ are legal slums.

              But go on waxing lyrically about how this Landlord is stupid to feel better about yourself or something.

              • Draco T Bastard


              • Antoine

                Let me get my head round this. You’re saying this guy is honestly unworried about his place being physically destroyed because he’s simply going to demolish it anyway?

                Hard to know what to do about that (apart from opening up lots more housing in Auckland so that investors can’t count on the price of land going ever upwards). A housing WOF wouldn’t help as he’d presumably be quite happy to take the place off the market…

                • Sabine


                  And if you were to drive around the country, and you would remove your own bias for a moment, you would be surprised to see how many shacks are masquerading for houses and even worse, you would feel nothing but pity for the people trying to live in it, cause they can’t afford anything else, or literally there is nothing else there.

                  Welcome to New Zealand, where every pile of wood can be sold for a million dollars and rented for 500+ a week cause Accom supplment and a lazy do nothing but posture cant’ give a fuck government refusing to see the issue make it possible. Thanks fucking National.

                  And last but least, in any City of NZ the ‘shacks’ are worth nothing, its the section that is worth money, especially if you have a legal frame work that allows you to knock down the shack to build a three story shack in its place.

                  its called land banking ,and there are a lot of people in NZ that do that instead of working. And yeah, like the cow for the dairy industry the tenant for the slumlord is nothing else but a resource to be extracted until the beast falls dead.

                  New Zillind, brighter futures, fuck yeah!

                  A housing WOf at least would make a minimum standard legally enforc able. This women if she were to go the Tenancy Tribunal might get 300 bucks for her misery and would need to find new digs. so yeah, lets not change this…..ey, casue a WOF would give Landlords a sad.

                  • Antoine

                    I support a WOF for rental housing, but maintain it wouldnt be enough to solve this problem (for the reason above, the property would be taken off the market leaving the tenant without a home).

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      If only there were some central body that could take note of this and build more houses in response.

                      Don’t worry Antoine, no-one will expect you to be capable of doing anything about it.

                    • Antoine

                      I’m still not convinced that central government is the best placed party to solve the housing shortage. Can’t help thinking the best solution is for the councils to heavily relax planning restrictions. Don’t understand the problem well enough to be sure though

                      PS one thing i’m sure of is that if we had a left wing central government and a right wing council, the likes of you would be blaming the council!

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Thank you for illustrating my point so clearly. The next local body elections are more than two years away, and people need houses right now.

                      You are incapable. Get out of the way.

                      PS: no, I’d be blaming the government, because councils are bound by the RMA, and in the case of Auckland, Rodney Hide’s witless and destructive fantasies.

                    • Antoine

                      Are you saying that getting rid of Goff is part of the solution?

                    • weka

                      “Can’t help thinking the best solution is for the councils to heavily relax planning restrictions.”

                      Problem there is that private developers are part of the driving force behind property costs, so giving them more latitude will just lead to higher housing costs across the board. I know you don’t like this, but the biggest thing that can help now is authorities who have no financial motive to intervene (I’m good with national govt and local body). And as OAB points out, not waiting for the market to sort it out, acting now. It’s not that hard, houses can be built very quickly these days. The thing that’s stopping that is the number of people prevaricating over abandoning the neoliberal model and going social democracy instead. In other words, people like you are responsible.

                    • Antoine

                      I agree there is merit in central Govt funding more social housing now.

                      I am still of the view however, that freeing up planning restrictions would also help. Agree to disagree on that one.


                    • Draco T Bastard []

                      I am still of the view however, that freeing up planning restrictions would also help.

                      Considering that’s what’s brought about the present crisis what makes you think that it’s suddenly going to start working now?

                  • Richard McGrath

                    You have a good point. Accommodation subsidies are just a means for transferring wealth from middle class taxpayers to the rich pricks who own rental property

                    • Sabine

                      you might not like it mate, but poor people pay tax.

                      It is only the working class that is fleeced. And there is not one National Party member or supporter that really gives a flying kite about workers in this country.

                  • weka

                    “Welcome to New Zealand, where every pile of wood can be sold for a million dollars and rented for 500+ a week cause Accom supplment and a lazy do nothing but posture cant’ give a fuck government refusing to see the issue make it possible. Thanks fucking National.”

                    And previous Labour. The accommodation supplement issue is a thorny one and I’ve yet to see a credible proposal for how to remove it without harming people.

                    btw, in lots of places in NZ AS is fuck all and not going to make much of a dent in $500/wk.

                    For those that don’t know much about AS, you can see the rates here


                    And the areas here,


                    • Sabine

                      i don’t have an issue with the Accommodation supplement per se.
                      I don’t have an issue with using Motels as ’emergency housing’ per se.
                      both are tools in a social market society to help make that society fairer and more equal for all citizens.

                      I have an issue when these two tools are being abused to cover up the fact that we have a government in place that deliberately had let things go so bad that now we are spending billions on rent supplements as even a dog kennels is now unaffordable and we are paying motels millions more then they would do if they were to rent the rooms to tourists.

                      I am not giving any government a pass, but as far as i am concerned the current government is National led, the issue has been identified a few years ago, everyone who has to say anything on this issues be it Sally Army, our Children’s commissioner or or or has rung the storm bells and yet, the likes of these people do nothing. In fact, they are still denying that there is a problem.

                      So I am not going to talk about labour and their failings 9 years ago, i will however hold Labour to account should they get into government and not do enough to change this situation. I will also give grief to the Greens if they should get into government and not do enough to change this situation.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      The accommodation supplement issue is a thorny one and I’ve yet to see a credible proposal for how to remove it without harming people.

                      Massive build in state housing. The more state housing the less subsidy.

          • saveNZ

            Sounds like she has a case for the tenancy tribunal. They can rule and get her compensation (and will rule if the landlord does not show up).

            Saying that, the floods were not the landlords fault but their responsibility to fix it.

            • Sabine

              in any sane and normal society she would not have to go to a tribunal with all the assorted stress, and the damage of the flood would be covered by insurance.

              i went to the tenancy tribunal once, and was awarded a grand total of less tehn two weeks wages for living in a contaminated house. its not worth the days of work you need to go there.

              in fact i suggest that the tenancy tribunal is set up to discourage people from using it. it is however a good tool for people that have money and lawyers.

        • Richard McGrath

          Chuck the tenant out? Where would they live? What sort of bully slumlord would you be?

          • Antoine

            If a landlord is a good landlord, then they absolutely can expect that the tenant notify them of major damage. I wouldnt want someone in my house who wouldn’t do that.

            Obviously the situation Sabine describes is different as that landlord made themselves uncontactable and generally failed to endear themselves to the tenant in any shape or form.

            • weka

              “Obviously the situation Sabine describes is different”

              Yes. Because this is a post about how fucked up renting is in NZ, in many different ways, and Sabine is talking about a tenant whose home was flooded. And you want to have a conversation about tenant responsibility.

              • Sabine

                but it must be the tenants fault. It can only be the tenants fault. And no landlord has ever tenanted a block of slums. No siree. cause bullshit.

                • Antoine

                  > but it must be the tenants fault. It can only be the tenants fault.

                  Both tenants and landlords can do wrong things.

                  > you want to have a conversation about tenant responsibility.

                  I raised the issue because I think a tenant can put themselves at risk by knowingly concealing damage to a property (although in this case it sounds like it may have been the right thing to do).

                  • weka

                    You really are clueless on this one Antoine. Even if you want to discuss the ways that tenants fuck up, this isn’t the place to do it. It’s literally got nothing to do with either the post or Sabine’s comment that you replied to.

            • Draco T Bastard

              And there’s no regulations to ensure that he’s a good landlord.

              • weka

                Yep. And from what I’ve seen of Antoine’s arguments on this, he doesn’t want many regulations.

                • Antoine

                  Dunno, I could maybe be persuaded, what regulations did you have in mind?

                  • weka

                    How about if the landlord lets their rental go mouldy from neglect the govt confiscates it* and they’re banned from ever renting out a property again? 😈

                    *then the govt repairs it and adds it to the HNZ stock.

                    Ok, just kidding 😉 Kind of. I think certainly that something like that should be happening with repeat offenders (give them the GV price for the property).

                    But go have a look at the GP housing policies for an idea of a what a centre left govt could do in terms of regulating. Best approach is to look at the interwoven policies rather than in isolation.

                    • Antoine

                      Their policies are too full on.

                    • weka

                      For you I’m sure. For tenants, not so much.

                    • Antoine

                      Well, let me qualify that. I think the home WOF policy is pretty good. I don’t agree with the security of tenure policy and I don’t think it would leave tenants better off (because of the way in which landlords would react).

                    • weka

                      “I don’t agree with the security of tenure policy and I don’t think it would leave tenants better off (because of the way in which landlords would react).”

                      And yet the people working with tenants have worked out the policy. Given you often side with the landlords, I’m not sure that your concern weighs up.

                      I don’t care about the scare stuff with changes. Let the bad landlords have a fit and sell their houses or whatever. The whole point is that we shouldn’t be beholden to them and the state needs to step up e.g. build some houses. The only reason that is not happening is because the right are ideologically opposed to state intervention even when it’s blatantly obvious that it’s needed and the market has utterly failed to provide a solution. Of course one could use National as an example of state incompetency, but that’s a reason to change the govt not give up.

                    • Antoine

                      Honest question, I looked for the green policy on building more houses and didnt find it, could you give me a quick pointer?

  5. AsleepWhileWalking 5

    Just want to put in a word for all the people who have medical issues and need specific housing such as modified access, transport/location specific, low noise/intrusion.

    Many of these are not being catered to in either social housing (who are going for volume) or the private market.

    • weka 5.1

      Thanks for that.

      One of the things that makes me nervous about the top down ideas about housing is that if we fix social housing in such and such a way then poor people will all be alright. Which might be true when you think about people being homeless or not (although I think there are still issues there based on individual need). And it’s true-ish at a population level. But people need homes for wellbeing, and that means a lot of different things to different people.

      I would add closeness to family, friends and community to that list.

  6. greg 6

    in end we will need to build thousands of social housing projects that is income assessed the home owner route is dead on NZ wages the other reason is if technology is set to displace thousands of jobs then there is no way a mortgage can be paid without stable income

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