Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: A rent in the social fabric

Getting your bond back without fighting a draconian snag list may be harder than you think. Photo / Doug Sherring
Getting your bond back without fighting a draconian snag list may be harder than you think. Photo / Doug Sherring

Okay my lovelies, listen up. Something has really bunched my undies.

A friend of mine just moved out of an $800 per week apartment in Auckland last week. They left it in what looked to me like perfect condition. They had it professionally cleaned. I imagined they would just get their bond straight back.

But instead, after inspection they received a list from the real estate agent of what seemed to me to be the most prissy nit-pickings.

Some of the items my friend accepted were such as small areas not cleaned behind tap fittings. (Dude, come round to my house.)

But there was also a list of tiny scuff marks on the walls. Followed by this delightful passive aggressive flourish: "The colour is Resene Black White." Steady on, vicar. Let me get this straight. You move out of a place and you are supposed to repaint the whole freaking thing? What is this all about? After investigating - or rather doing what I usually do, moaning about it on Facebook - I have concluded my friend's experience is not unusual.

Although there are wear and tear caveats in rental contracts, what is reasonable means different things to different people and to find out where the line is drawn you have to go through the tedious bureaucratic process of taking your case to the Tenancy Tribunal. Even then, the outcome depends on the arbitrary judgment of the adjudicator.

"My daughter was not given her bond back because the wheels of her bed left marks," said one friend. "I left my house in Auckland better than when I moved in. But I had to get on to the Tenancy Tribunal to get my bond back. It was horrible."

It's a house, not a freaking work of art. Things wear out. A toothbrush doesn't last a lifetime. Are landlords too highly geared maybe?

Prior to this I had assumed that as property prices rose, landlords would be increasingly insouciant. Why bother having tenants if the value your house is increasing at a rate of $2500 weekly?

But as usual, I had it all about face. Because house prices are so high, rents are comparatively low, and yields are low, which means financially stretched landlords are desperate to squeeze every cent out of their roachmotels, sorry, investment properties.

This is contributing to what was already a horrible renting culture in this country. Not only are renters treated, shamefully, as if they are gulag-dwelling mushroom-sprouting gypsies but they also carry more than their fair share of the financial risk upfront. If you rent a place for, say, $500 weekly (good luck finding that) you have to pay about $3000 in bond and upfront rent. The very people who are struggling most are not likely to have a few lazy grand sitting around. Then, If you move and you have the kind of property manager who tucks his shirt into his undies, you will not be able to get your bond back unless you fight it through the tenancy tribunal.

Many people who are in this position would not have the communication skills, or personal resources to go through this process; something landlords know.

This is a real quote from another zombie landlord: "I love renting to beneficiaries because they're too stupid to take you to the Tenancy Tribunal if you keep the bond." Maybe not stupid, just suffering. Desperate people don't make a fuss.

Renters don't even seem to feel that the properties they are renting are truly their own; which they are for the duration of their lease. Tenants should be entitled to "quiet enjoyment" but the prevailing societal norms dictate that they are there on the grace and favour of the landlord, like serfs living on the kindness of the feudal liege lord. Well stuff that. In contrast, in parts of Europe, three quarters of the population are renters and have rights which are often lifelong, and may even be transferable to their heirs.

It is clear our laws protecting tenants have not kept up with changes in the property market which have tipped the balance further to landlords' benefit.

Landlords in most cases can increase rent every three months and give 42 days' notice. How are families with kids expected to settle and thrive in a community under these circumstances? It sucks.

Why are renters not rising up? Why is there not a more vocal and activist tenants" lobby group? Why are politicians not catering to this group of potential voters? Why are educators who see kids having to be continually moved not fuming? It is a hole in the major parties' housing policies.

Does anyone else out there care? My friends, it is not just about splashing around a bit of Resene Black White: It's about living in a decent society.

- NZ Herald

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