Some students living at the University of Auckland's halls will refuse to pay their rent in a “last resort” attempt for “fair rent”.

Students for Fair Rent, a University of Auckland student organisation, made the announcement on Friday April 19 at the university’s campus saying unaffordable rent means students are struggling to pay for food and are missing classes to pay their rent. 

It is unclear how many students will be participating in the strike at this stage, but those who opt in will stop paying rent from Wednesday May 1.

“The University has continuously refused to acknowledge it as a serious problem and to engage with us in a good faith manner. The rent strike is a last resort method to stand up to them,” says Students for Fair Rent chair Matthew Lee.

Matthew says rent for student accommodation at the University has been rising at an average rate of 8% each year. 

A single standard room at Waipārūrū Hall, a catered hall for first-year university students, is now $510 a week. Last year that same room was $470. 

Students for Fair Rent chair Matthew Lee says the strike is students' “last resort”. Photo: Re: News.

“This figure outstrips the inflation and wage growth rate and puts rent above what students can get from student loans or allowance. It’s also unreasonably higher than the average rent in Auckland Central,” Matthew says. 

A spokesperson for the University of Auckland says its costs have risen due to high inflation pressures and price increases for consumer goods.

“Many of the costs associated with student accommodation have increased…for example, in 2023-24, food [went up] 12% and wages [by] 10%. Our fee increases for 2024 were, on average, 8.2% for catered halls and 7.3% for self-catered halls.”

“It should also be noted that the fee students pay also includes furniture, power, water, Wi-Fi and heating, as well as access to the recreation centre.”

The spokesperson also said the university had invested $20m to improve safety systems at University Hall Apartments and had also commenced similar upgrades at O'Rorke Hall to install electronic card readers.

A crowd of University of Auckland students listen to the rent strike announcement on campus. Photo: Re: News.

‘Leaking pipes and parts of the roof falling off’

Matthew says he currently pays $355 to live in a single room in a flat at Carlaw Park, which is an uncatered hall on campus. This amount covers power, water, Wi-Fi and heating, as well as access to a gym.

For comparison, the average price for a room in Auckland Central is $240 - $275 a week, not including bills, according to Tenancy Services data for February 2024

In the time he has lived in halls, Matthew says he hasn’t noticed improvements to justify the yearly rent increases. 

“In all honesty, it’s gotten worse,” he says.

“At Carlaw Park-Nicholls there’s been reports of leaking pipes and parts of the roof falling off. The building has started to sink because of the leaks and it’s also causing mould.”

Matthew says in older halls like O’Rouke Hall “the maintenance problems are infinite”.

The spokesperson for the University of Auckland confirmed to Re: News it had experienced leaking pipes “which caused mould and ceiling tiles to be damaged” but said this was an “isolated” incident in Carlaw Park.

Matthew also says some services like communal vacuums have also been removed from halls. 

“Every year I have been in halls, we have had communal vacuum cleaners that we can borrow for half an hour and then return. This year they've decided to not do that. They sent an email asking everyone to buy their own vacuum cleaners, which is obviously very expensive to get a good one and it’s hard to know what to do with it once people move out after a year.”

The spokesperson for the University of Auckland says it removed the vacuums “as residents are not using them appropriately.”

University of Auckland students supporting the rent strike. Photo: Re: News.

A number of speakers at the rent strike announcement raised how student accommodation is not included within the Residential Tenancies Act. 

“Section 5B explicitly excludes students who live in student accommodation from accessing the same rights and the same processes to retribution through the likes of the Tenancy Tribunal that we have in our regular renting arrangements,” Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick said. “That's messed up.”

Students are working to survive

Matthew says Students for Fair Rent conducted a survey of 108 students in August 2023 and found nearly 10% of students were working above 20 hours a week to afford living in the halls. Around 44% worked 10 hours or more. 

“We're hearing a lot of people saying that they have to sacrifice time going to lectures or time to do assignments because they have to work to pay rent,” he says. 

“Which is crazy because being a student is a full-time job, essentially.”

One student in the survey said: “It has made me need to overwork and miss classes just to pay bills by working weekends (10 hours) and weekdays (10 pm-2 am, 4 nights a week).”

“It has become difficult as I’ve had to decide to pay rent or buy food. It is stressful,” another said. 

How the rent strike will work

Matthew says students will not pay their rent until the University meets the demands laid out in its petition. The petition was originally presented to the University in 2023 and gained 1500 signatures but was rejected.

The petition demands a reduction in rent and for safeguards to be put in place for rent increases. It states three measures should be used to measure fair rent:

  1. Using the rate of inflation as a guide of how much rent is to be increased (e.g. not exceeding the rate of inflation)
  2. Measuring the rent against the average rent prices in the Auckland Central area (e.g. not being higher than the average rent by a certain amount) 
  3. Calculating the income support given by the Government (i.e. Student Loans and Student Allowance)

Matthew says he hopes the strike will force the university to acknowledge there is a serious problem,“because we haven’t been getting that acknowledgement”.

He also wants to raise awareness for how Resident Advisers (RAs), who live and work in the halls, have lost their accommodation discount. 

“They usually get a 25% discount, but this year it's completely gone. A lot of my friends who were RAs last year are refusing to come back and [the university] had a problem with finding enough RAs, which is another problem for the wellbeing and safety in the halls.”

University of Auckland's response

A University of Auckland spokesperson told Re: News: “Resident Advisers (RAs) receive an hourly rate of $26.25, which is 13% above the New Zealand minimum wage. We feel that this appropriately remunerates them for their required work.”

In response to the rent strike as a whole, the spokesperson rejected the claim the University is seeking to profit from accommodation.

“In 2023 we projected accommodation revenue to be .3% of our total revenue, but only if the occupancy rates hit target. If the .3% is achieved, it makes a small contribution to our property maintenance requirements.

“University accommodation is cheaper, safer and of a much higher standard than the average student accommodation in the private market.”

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