I watched TV2'S returning reality series Renters for the first time for this column and felt like contacting the Human Rights Commission in a huff. I would like to lay a complaint.
It is clear from Renters that everyone who can't afford to own their own home is a feral sub-human stoner. At least that is the impression you will get from watching the latest season of this popular reality programme about property managers.
Dog poo! Rubbish! Drugs! That's the life of a dirty renter. It's a horror show. If you don't have a mortgage it goes without saying you live in humiliating squalor and don't get up before lunchtime. But what about the tenants who pay a fortune to live in damp houses with useless landlords who do no maintenance? Or the long-term tenants who improve their properties? Just for balance can we see recalcitrant landlords being named and shamed on television, too?
Unfortunately, I strongly suspect we won't see any property owners being hauled over the coals in future episodes.
But given our housing shortage and home-affordability crisis I would have thought it would make more sense to show that being a long-term tenant is an attractive and fiscally sound option; certainly in future more of us are going to be. And we're not all going to be setting up tinny houses.
Apart from being affronted on behalf of all the perfectly boring normal people who rent houses and live quite functioning lives, I did discover that Renters is a really fascinating glimpse of how the other half - the underclass - live. These are the people who are probably familiar to CYFs and Winz and the police, but are not represented much in the mainstream media.
Most things you watch on the box bend over backwards to create the impression everyone lives a dinky, wholesome, middle-class kind of existence - not lives so sad and miserable that a real achievement is only smoking pot rather than anything stronger. ("It's just weed. No P. No meth." Wow, give the guy a medal.)
But this is the reality of life for many people, and we don't often see it in its seedy grimness on television. Since scaredy-cat, do-gooder journalists more often are to be found in Kelburn or Thorndon than in Naenae or Porirua, the makers of Renters deserve an accolade for getting out on the mean streets.
The property managers followed are supposed to be the "good guys" here, protecting their clients' houses, but apart from fabulous hardcase Sue in Hamilton - "all the charm of a steaming bulldozer" - they are boring bossyboots with the charisma of prison officers.
"It's like dealing with kids. Clean your room!" says Richard, who adds: "I'm dealing with a human being," although one suspects he is trying to persuade himself as much as us.
Sue, who wears sequins, a biker jacket and dangly earrings to a property inspection, at least knows how to speak the language of her tenants. "Wake up you lazy bugger! Why are your friends causing so much shit around here?" She is fabulous. As the narrator comments drily: "If Helen Clark needs a hand at the United Nations, Sue is available weekends." Or maybe the Human Rights Commission could use her? Now, about that complaint ...
* Renters' third season starts on TV2, Tuesday at 8pm.