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May 29, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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New App to Legitimise Rent Bidding

A new app allowing hopeful tenants to “bid” against each other for rental properties has highlighted a practice already prevalent in New Zealand.

Rentberry, a US-based app, is a “transparent” platform which, according to its website,  facilitates “price negotiation” between landlords and tenants. Landlords direct prospective tenants to apply for a property using the app, which shows the number of candidates interested in the property and the highest “offer” currently made.

The arrival of the app has left some feeling uneasy. A VUW postgraduate student told Salient that, in their experiences of finding a flat earlier this year, the practice of rent bidding was “quite implicit.” Landlords and agencies often prompted them to offer more at viewings, and one agent “hinted that those who do that are more likely to get the property.”

Labour’s spokesperson for Housing, Phil Twyford, agreed that this practice was “already happening at viewings.” He saw the activity as symptomatic of the “housing crisis,” but was “skeptical” about whether the Government could regulate or ban apps like Rentberry which may encourage the practice.

For Twyford, a “better approach” to preventing escalating rent is to provide more housing to make renting more affordable.

The link between the provision of social housing and the practice of rent bidding has been questioned by the Government. Social Housing Minister, Amy Adams, told Salient that “private market initiatives like [Rentberry] don’t affect the Social Housing register or the operation of the Income-Related Rent Subsidy policy.”

The CEO of Rentberry, Alex Lubinsky, has responded to criticism by pointing out that the app provides a more transparent version of a practice that is already occurring. He told Radio NZ that ensuring affordable rent is the government’s responsibility.

The postgraduate student Salient spoke to was not convinced that increased transparency justified the consequence of higher rent.

“If bidding happens, and if it is a sneaky thing that landlords do, I guess transparency is important. But would having an app normalise bidding, and make it a more commonplace way to find a flat? Seems iffy to me.”

VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin reflected, “unfortunately, the practice of ‘bidding’ for a flat is not new for students. It is just another way for landlords to take advantage of high demand for rentals in Wellington.”

“[The app] will only deter prospective students from studying in Wellington because it will come to be known as a completely unaffordable city for tertiary students.”

 

If you feel you are being taken advantage of by your landlord, the VUWSA advocacy service can provide support and advice about your rights. Email them at advocate@vuwsa.org.nz.

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