Freshers, picture this.
It’s 2020 and university is the hot new thing on your mind. Courses are sorted, boxes packed, and you’ve found a rental.
Naively, you enter a very aesthetically pleasing, wooden-floored house with two mates, unaware of the trials and tribulations to come.
Winter hits and you suddenly realise that your very old and rundown fireplace barely heats the living room and chews through your wood supply.
You resort to small $15 heaters and warming your hands and feet on laptop chargers.
When it rains, you keep your clothes inside and they don’t dry for a week because everything is damp.
Your brilliant solution of leaving the windows slightly ajar while you get groceries leads to you getting robbed.
You get a dehumidifier, but the power frequently cuts off because you have too many appliances running during Electric Kiwi’s free hour of power.
No one does the bloody dishes. Pictured it yet?
Now, if you’re the type to glorify the ungodly living conditions that students somehow view as symbolic, by all means, move along. Join the breathers in Otago who love living it rough just to feel something.
But if you want to avoid the above scenario, then practise some self love and get yourself a properly insulated place to live.
To help you on that journey, here’s a handy dandy list of tips that I wish I knew before renting.
Finding a rental
By golly, by gee, do NOT skimp out on asking questions. Go to a viewing and ask away.
It helps the property manager to remember you and paints the illusion that you know what you’re talking about.
Here’s some things to look for and discuss with the property managers (rote memorisation techniques from NCEA come in handy here): good quality curtains with no mould, draft stoppers, windows that open and can let air circulate and light through, and smoke alarms in the right places.
Is the oven gas or electric? Are there signs of pest infestations? Are there unpleasant smells in cupboards and mattresses? Is there a fibre connection?
But here’s the winning question: Does it have a reliable source of heating?
Will this heating source reach most of the house, or will it escape out the doors and windows? Is the fireplace just decoration?
If you must depend on tiny fans or oil heaters to prevent frostbite, YOU ARE GOING TO PAY EXORBITANT AMOUNTS ON POWER!
Ask to see a healthy home report.
Search the name of the property managers in the Tenancy Tribunal database to see if they’ve had a history of orders against them.
Pick your flatmates wisely.
Your “mates” could have severe allergies to housework and general hygiene.
If you wouldn’t live with them alone on an island for six months, they don’t cut the mustard.
The best advice that I could possibly give, other than visiting the Eco Store or Kmart and getting some schweet schweet cutlery and crockery, is take photos of the house before you move your stuff into it.
Do this to picture any pre-existing damage, wear and tear, or stains. Send these to your property manager, so you can have an agreement about the ingoing condition of the flat.
Another option is using your first inspection to facilitate this conversation. This is your safeguard to not being taken advantage of by landlords in your moving out stage where they take your bond money for pre-existing damage.
While you're living there
You have your rights. You are allowed to ask for things to be seen such as plumbing issues, the extractor fan not working or leaks.
Flat inspections should only be every four weeks and landlords are not allowed to barge in without 48 hours’ notice.
Love thy neighbours even if you don’t. It’s a weird liminal space of a relationship.
On the one hand, they may send noise complaints to your property managers, who in turn give you a 14-day notice (we were ‘talking very loudly’ at 10pm … in our own lounge…).
On the other hand, they may take care of your mail and plants while you’re on holiday.
With any good relationship, communication is key – forewarn them of events you might be holding and apologise for the noise.
Play the nice guy act.
Keep a paper trail of nice words and emails from yourself to the landlord or property manager even if you want to strangle them.
If there are issues that arise, contact your landlord first, then get advice from Tenancy Services – they always have the best NZ bangers for their hold music.
How to move out
Even though it’s within the Tenancy Act that tenants must “leave the property reasonably clean and tidy” unless you followed steps above and took photos at the start, you’re going to have a hard time proving that your level of “tidy” is sufficient.
You DO NOT have to get professional carpet cleaners if you haven’t damaged or stained the carpet.
Take all your shit. The next renters don’t want your jumbo box pack of ramen under the sink or the communal sleeping bag used for those that needed a place to crash.
A really good idea is to again follow up with the landlord and do the final inspection together, so they can tell you what to fix or amend BEFORE you give the keys back.
Cleaning doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience - call up mates or family to all help and reward yourselves with a few bevvies and a BBQ afterwards.
It’s not an entirely foolproof list of things but it will do the trick.
If you get two or three rentals down the road and can't get a mortgage because you earn minimum wage - not to mention skyrocketing house prices so you don’t have a lot of luck unless your parents lend you a couple hundred grand ... Maybe then, it’s time to go bush.
Live like Johnny Currie from Madman’s' Creek.
Build yourself a comfortable abode and live from the land.
It may not be a shack up to housing standards nor would it probably pass a Healthy Homes check, but you'd never have to write another passive aggressive email towards a property manager or landlord ever again.
This article originally appeared in Canta Magazine, Issue 01 February 28 2022.