Aaron Dahmen: Inside New Zealand’s ‘cooked’ rental market

Aaron Dahmen,
Publish Date
Tue, 1 Feb 2022, 10:03am
(Photo / Getty)
(Photo / Getty)

Aaron Dahmen: Inside New Zealand’s ‘cooked’ rental market

Aaron Dahmen,
Publish Date
Tue, 1 Feb 2022, 10:03am


I got a new job over summer. 

Full-time hours, and I didn't even need to apply. 

To be honest, it was great work experience. I've never been faster at scrolling social media, writing up a quick message, and sending it to potential contacts. 

I say experience, because, well, yes, it was unpaid. 

In fact, I was technically my own employer, and the job description? Flat hunting in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. 

At the best of times, looking for a room can be tedious, frustrating, and mind-numbing. 

At the worst, it’s an infuriating palaver of enquiries, so many flying out the door that you forget you’re actually looking for a potential home. Any place, no matter how derelict, will do. 

Within a month, about 70 messages had been fired off from my phone, and of those, just 13 resulted in viewings. They included locations well out of the CBD, dark bottom floor apartments, and bathrooms steeped in black mould. 

I was introduced to one flat with ‘it’s not great, the landlord does the bare minimum for healthy home standards… but this is absolutely worth it for the location and price.’ 

I couldn’t believe I was even considering the place until I realised I was in competition with 20-odd others for the patch of carpet. 

This is the state of our market. It’s not just red hot, it's cooked. 

Traditionally, viewings are an opportunity to meet the current tenants, see if you're a good fit, and check out whether you can imagine living there. 

Nowadays, they're more like bad spinoffs from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? 

Over the last few weeks, I've sat down in the living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens of strangers, as they threw questions at me, assuming a role-reversal of sorts with my daytime employment. Was I tidy? What did I do in my spare time? Would I keep to myself? Do I prefer parties or social drinks? What's my stance on alcohol and drugs? Have I met Jacinda? 

Of course, I get it. You want to live with someone you get along with, and to know that, you might need to ask a few personal questions. In fact, I don't envy the position of the flatmate who gets designated with waving everyone through, smiling through clenched teeth, and then picking their winner of the personality contest lottery. 

The problem is, there are so many people looking, and so few places that come even close to a suitable living situation. 

After first starting the hunt in December, I finally found somewhere a week out from the end of my tenancy. Until then, I was scrambling to put plans in place in case I had to store things and find other accommodation... or, as I half-joked, crash on the couch in our Press Gallery office. 

I also reflected on how the whole saga must be for others. I don't have a raft of commitments out of work, I don't have kids to pick up from school, nor do I need to provide for a family. I was, for example, able to do five viewings in one night, back-to-back-to-back. Many don't have that privilege. 

I guess, as it always does with this housing crisis, the whole mess really comes down to that one word: privilege. 

From the very top, where those in privilege control the market, to renters, who are forced to scrap for a safe space to call home.  

According to Trade Me’s December rental price index, tenants are having to fork out an average of $2000 extra each year. 

That means, unless you’re able, and willing, to pay a premium, you’re locked out. 

And not locked out in the way that you might be unable to buy a house, or put down a mortgage.  

You’re quite literally locked out from having a roof over your head. 

There are no easy answers, but it's hard to swallow that finding somewhere to live, which is a basic human right, has become an almost impossible task. 

Every day, scores of New Zealanders are desperately trying to find refuge in places that don’t put their health, or their family's health, at risk. 

This cannot be our future reality. We need to be aspirational for this country, and it starts with doing more. 

More political will from those who entertain the seats of power. And please, more houses.