Tenants desperate to find a rental are lowering their standards or grouping together to share accommodation with family and friends just to get a roof over their heads, experts say.
Some were also paying more than $650 a week, leaving very little for necessities such as food, power and clothing and were avoiding paying bills on time to be able to afford to eat.
The news comes as the Bay of Plenty's median weekly rent has hit an all-time high of $550.
Tauranga's median weekly rent is even higher than the region's median at $565, while Rotorua's sits at $470.
The latest Trade Me Rental Price Index showed Tauranga's median rents were also higher than the nation's new record of $540 per week. Wellington was at $640, Christchurch $440 and Hamilton $480.
Tauranga Rentals Ltd manager Dan Lusby said demand for rentals was high and many people were lowering their standards just to get into a home.
"When they see something they have to move quick.
"That's why a lot of them are accepting less than what they're used to, some want a nice house [but] are going into older houses just to get a place."
Lusby said they only had about half a dozen rentals on their books, which could range from $360 to $800 per week, and were being snapped up within days.
"There's demand for all of them."
Tauranga Property Investors Association president Juli Ann Tolley said rent was no doubt becoming a challenge for many people.
"People are grouping together more often to share accommodation for this reason such as flatmates, couples splitting a house, multi-generational families living together more."
But Tolley said many companies were moving into the region and bringing more higher-paying jobs than ever before.
"So for some, the rents for nicer accommodation is a reasonable step until they buy into the market.
"We've seen a large number of tenants moving into ownership situations over the last year, even some situations where they have bought the rental they were living in."
Managing director of the Realty Group Ltd, which operates Eves and Bayleys, Simon Anderson, said there was still plenty of demand for rental property.
"If we get a good home to rent there are 20, 30, 40 people wanting to get into it.
"It's just unfortunate it's getting to that level where for some people it's become unaffordable."
Anderson said it was a balancing act between landlords retaining good tenants but also protecting their investment.
"Landlords want good tenants. They're investing more into their properties to comply with new standards and they want them looked after."
Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Shirley McCombe said rising rent was a problem for everyone.
"For our clients on a wage/salary, their wages don't increase. For those on a benefit, there is a limit to the assistance available from Work and Income."
McCombe said she had clients who were paying rent of $650 a week.
"Even with support from Work and Income, they are left with very little for food, power, clothing, etc."
Some people were sacrificing food and paying bills just to be able to pay rent, she said.
"There has been a large increase in people requiring food parcels ...
"The problems compound with every week for many of our clients. They have no money so they don't pay bills, interest and penalties are added and debts grow.
"They struggle so they go either to Work and Income for recoverable assistance or they go to payday lenders."
Rotorua Property Investors Association president Debbie Van Den Broek said for $470 you could get a three-bedroom house in an "average suburb in average condition".
But with demand outstripping supply it meant some landlords with "average" properties could ask for more rent.
"Some houses that are $550 they are only worth around $470 but because there's a shortage in houses landlords are getting away with asking for a bit extra."
Van Den Broek said the rental company she co-owned had 75 properties owned by 37 owners on the books and the Property Investors Association had about 60 to 70 couples who own houses.
"I think there are houses out there but it's just picking the right tenant.
"People are leaving their rentals empty rather than having bad tenants. The marginal tenants will find it tough.
"People aren't going to be keen to give people a second chance and it's going to get far worse than it has ever been."
Rotorua Budget Advisory Services manager Pakanui Tuhura said the wages and salaries of many people had not kept pace with rising rental costs.
Until then, people will be looking to either increase household income outside of wages through boarders and family sharing or for affordable accommodation in and out of Rotorua, he said.
Tuhura said people were sacrificing things they think they can do without or not keeping up with debt repayments.
"The latter just makes things worse of course because then penalties are added and costs of debt collection, etc.
"When they start sacrificing things like food and power then we know that things are getting close to breaking point.
"Besides the obvious sacrifice of essential needs such as food and power, I am concerned that if rents continue to rise we will see an increase in homeless families, not just homeless individuals."
McDowell Property Management Ltd business development manager Rhiannon Greenwood said the rising rents were a reflection of the scarcity of rental properties available, legislation changes and tighter restrictions on the quality of property.
"A lot of properties have had to have work done to bring them up to the Healthy Homes Standards, which has, in turn, brought an increase in prices nationwide."
Greenwood said it had been difficult for people to be able to afford to rent at times "as we haven't seen prices like this in the past".
"However, people are still affording the homes and we are not having any troubles tenanting properties."
Most decent-sized homes were above the median weekly rent of $470.
"To get under it is more likely to be a studio or unit type of property with fewer bedrooms, space, etc, as this is all reflected in rental prices."
Trade Me property sales director Gavin Lloyd said every region in the country saw an annual increase in rent in January with seven of the country's 15 regions hitting all-time highs.
The largest percentage increases were seen in Manawatu/Whanganui (17 per cent), Marlborough (13 per cent), and Northland (11 per cent) which all saw median weekly rents reach an all-time high.
"Auckland ($590), Bay of Plenty ($550) and Nelson/Tasman ($500) also saw median weekly rents reach all-time highs."