Wellington students are struggling to find flats, especially if their criteria include quality and affordability.
In recent years, a surge in student numbers has turned the flat-hunting game into a competitive league.
Student Sophie Williamson said that her flat started looking on 5 January and had to couch surf for two months, until securing a place last Thursday, “It was just crazy hard!”
VUWSA Welfare Vice-President Madeleine Ashton-Martyn said VUWSA regularly heard stories of students being forced to couch surf “for as long as they’re welcome and then some”, with a lack of student housing impacting mental health and even leaving students forced to find refuge in “tents and homeless shelters.”
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With such high demand for Wellington properties, some landlords have begun manipulating the system in order to squeeze more rent from potential tenants.
Ashton-Martyn states “over the past four months, we’ve seen an increase in the number of landlords auctioning the rent price of their property.”
Rent increases—up 9% on average over the past year—for often sub-par living conditions have put further strain on students to ensure their average government allowance of $172 per week foot the bills.
As a result, more students are seeking hardship grants and emergency food parcels from the university.
Many students Salient talked to suggested that while they found several places to view and apply for, property managers and landlords often failed to keep in regular contact regarding the availability of their properties.
One student said they experienced countless situations where a landlord had failed to simply show students the property, while those that did were often overly-cautious about who they housed. “A lot of places don’t like anyone who has ever studied commercial law. Knowing your rights is a huge turn-off to landlords, particularly if you’re a student.”
“We’ve had so much drama. Our [current] landlord is illegally living in our garden shed, and this landlord has two student properties and a long list of tenancy cases.”
Many students accused certain property managers of consistently dodgy practices, with Te Aro Tenancies in particular singled out for criticism.
Student Anthony Grant found a five-person flat at $600 a week, only to discover it was too good to be true. “We looked up Te Aro Tenancies and found they had multiple one-star reviews with people complaining that they had been ripped off and had their bonds taken, [or that Te Aro Tenancies was] refusing to pay for repairs on flats.”