Article: Speak Easy

Renting In  Northland: A Darwinian  Struggle with Michael BoturRenting In Northland: A Darwinian Struggle with Michael Botur

How do we know the situation for house renters in Northland is out of control?  There’s the weekly median rent of $385 per week, which is almost half of the estimated $850 per week average income ($44,200 was the 2017 median wage in Northland, and divide that by 52 weeks.)

We can also tell renters have got it bad when we look at how quickly rent is rising. The Advocate reports a near-ten percent rise in Northland rental fees, based on the Trade Me Property Index. That 9.1 percent rise appears more than double the national average of 4.4 per cent.

Owners of letting agencies and real estate companies keep telling us the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act and insulation requirements are making investment property seem too costly to some landlords. They’re selling their homes, the homes’ values are going up, a home with an increased value can command a higher rent… Sounds like a vicious circle to me. Plus, we have people coming here from Auckland, bringing plenty of money which presumably appeals to a landlord more than Northland locals whose incomes don’t seem as reliable. 

Least-favoured by landlords are individual renters. Some renters like my Kerikeri friend Ellen aren’t allowed to speak to their landlord and must pass on any messages through the so-called Head Tenant who will then pass a message through the letting agency.

Then there are renters like my Kamo friend Kyle who tells me this:
“We’re about to leave the rental we’ve been in for the past 2.5 years. Throughout a whole tenancy the landlord has repaired nothing other than the front door when it broke and we’ve had a plumber come through when one of the pipes burst. We have repeatedly reported that the house has major leaks in nearly every room and that the walls in the bathroom and garage are rotting away, plus the staircase is literally falling to pieces, yet they’ve done nothing about it.

“Now that we’re leaving we’ve been made aware that the landlord intends to move back in and renovate the whole place. Which is great for him I guess, but it’s just struck me that they’ve intentionally left our family in a damp, rotting house with no intention of ever fixing it for us during our tenancy, because they knew eventually they’d fix everything when they move back in.”

It gets worse. Renters have it so hard there is even a website dedicated to collecting damning information about them. It’s called Tenancy Information NZ (TINZ). On this website, the NZ Property Investors Federation, Leading Property Managers of NZ and Independent Property Managers Association all get together to share the following information, which, to me, sounds at the most defamatory and illegal and at the very least cruel and cynical.

On TINZ, these people share:
- Tenancy Information NZ tenant ratings, Tenancy Tribunal orders, 14 day notices, verbal/physical abuse,  drug abuse warnings, dangerous dog warnings and photos from other members
- Ministry of Justice Tenancy Tribunal orders
- Dun & Bradstreet (now illion) credit checks
- Passports and driver licences
- Home Ownership records
- Social media, Court Judgements, News websites, Companies Office, Police 10/7, Sensible Sentencing Trust,  Interpol, etc – this is their words.

If you think it sounds like a conspiracy theory, it’s not.  TINZ also directs people towards a rental debt collection group called the C.I.A. I am not making this up; head to if you don’t believe me about the CIA thing. TINZ advocates a scoring system for tenants as well as stockpiling photographs of tenants. At TINZ landlords can register for an alert which emails them if tenants start looking for other house.
The big picture is those looking to rent a house face an uphill battle.

We need more landlords who are considerate of tenants’ needs, keep the price reasonable, keep their mind open when interviewing tenants, provide responsible maintenance and make themselves available. If you’re one of those people, please keep setting a good high standard. 

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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