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18th of July 2018


If property managers can't fix mouldy homes, are they just ripping off renters?

Is the state of Dunedin student flats a rite of passage, or simply a health hazard? And are all landlords taking advantage?

OPINION: Rat infestations are objectively bad, aren't they? Nobody wants to live in a house co-inhabited by rodents.

Any reasonable person would also agree no one should have to live in mould-ridden homes – not even Scarfies. Yet property managers seem to think that's OK.

They act as if there's nothing wrong with renting out unsafe, freezing, rat-infested homes. And sadly, for the most part, they're getting away with it.

There was good news – of sorts –  when nine Dunedin students agreed to a settlement with their useless property manager and negligent landlord. They'd been rented a cold home topped with toxic mould. It was so bad they say it made them sick.

READ MORE:* McConnell: Fees free is ill-thought-through craft cider socialism* Damp and cold flats a Scarfie rite of passage or student slum?* Stuff Nation: The man who sees nightmare flats everyday* McConnell: Strike! Rich corporates have no excuse not to pay us for our time* Renters getting raw deal from property managers, Consumer NZ says

But their payout is a rarity, even though their condition is not.

You don't have to go far in New Zealand to find someone with a horrific renting story.

Bedbugs eggs in an Auckland flat.

Bedbugs eggs in an Auckland flat.

Preparing for this article, I've heard from a tenant who arrived at her new home to discover her mattresses lined with bedbugs. She spent months enduring the blood-sucking parasites, first waiting for her property manager to respond, and then for the pesticide to take effect.

She had nowhere else to go. She couldn't afford another letting fee.

Then there was the Wellington mother who had mushrooms growing through her carpet.

Ad Feedback The infestation was discovered only after the tenant had moved in.

The infestation was discovered only after the tenant had moved in.

She cleaned it, sprayed them, kept the house aired and dry. But the mushrooms just kept growing. The house wasn't fit. It wasn't liveable.

It shouldn't be like this. 

We shouldn't have housing so utterly indefensible, so uninhabitable and cruel that, by going home at the end of the day, you're putting your health at risk.

Our housing situation is, quite simply, outrageous. And it's made only more ridiculous when you realise there are people being paid to make sure it doesn't get this bad ... What exactly are property managers doing?

Wellington's old houses are the cause of many renter horror stories. Ross Giblin/Stuff

Wellington's old houses are the cause of many renter horror stories.

In all of these cases, property managers have done less than the bare minimum required. Their duty of care has been abysmal, so too has their basic humanity.

They have just two jobs, property managers: make sure a house is liveable, make sure rent is paid. It is all their generous wage requires of them, and they're failing to do even that.

At the end of the day, they're getting away with it.

A spoon is used as a lock for a door in a Dunedin student flat. The nine female tenants have since received a payout for ...

A spoon is used as a lock for a door in a Dunedin student flat. The nine female tenants have since received a payout for the state of the property.

Property managers operate in the wild west, in terms of legislation. They require no qualification. There is no licensing system. There is no vocal industry standards body.

For years, rental agencies have charged thousands as a "letting fee". A fee that goes straight to their business, paid by the tenant, for the privilege of having a roof over their heads – even if it's infested with rats.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford's bill to ban letting fees is a step in the right direction.

CREDIT: Henry Cooke/Stuff

Housing Minister Phil Twyford announces a new bill to ban letting fees.

Those fees prohibit tenants from ditching their cruddy, unfit homes. The lofty fees reward rental agencies for filling homes, even if the homes should not be on the market. And, once they hook a tenant, the agent's job is more or less done. The sooner someone leaves, the sooner they can charge another letting fee.

Complaints about, for instance, a kitchen that poses an obvious fire risk, can wait.

At least, that's what I experienced at my last apartment. Every time the kitchen bench was wiped, the stove top would spark up with smoke streaming from a small hole near the temperature dial.

The property manager now tells me it's been fixed. She says "safety is a priority". Good, it only took months and the end of a tenancy. 

When I complained last year, the reply was: "I've sent you a lease renew letter, please email back to me." Safety, then, was obviously their priority. Money, of course, was not.

Houses like this should not be rentable. Yet, the law isn't stopping it.

Twyford's bill doesn't go far enough.

Your flatting horror stories Share your stories, photos and videos.

Labour offered big ideas to improve rental housing in opposition, but there's been little action since the March announcement to ban letting fees.

Landlords will say new measures cost and punish good operators, but we know there are far too many cowboys in the wild west that is the rental market. They're money-grabbing cowboys who take from those they won't even give decent shelter to. They need to be reined in.

A "Housing Warrant of Fitness" was on the table during Labour's opposition days. It's a simple, self-explanatory idea that begs the question: Why hasn't this happened yet?

Time, unfortunately for Twyford, is not a luxury he has. If he doesn't meet his end-of-year deadline to overhaul the rental market, he is letting families, students and so many other Kiwis down. He's letting down those who don't have the luxury of living in a safe, non-toxic, pest-free home.

* Glenn McConnell is a journalist and student. He writes a fortnightly column for Stuff.

 - Stuff

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