New Zealand's major cities are in the grip of a rental squeeze that is not only hitting students, but also pensioners and young professionals working as teachers, chefs and engineers.

The demand has sent national rents soaring to new heights, with Auckland and Wellington also hitting record highs and pundits tipping the traditional "March madness" month to be even busier.

It also appears that no quick end is in sight as population growth and a shortage of new houses are behind the record rents, analyst CoreLogic warns.

Italian chef Fabio Salamone says the cost of rents compared to incomes is worse in Wellington than London. Photo / Supplied
Italian chef Fabio Salamone says the cost of rents compared to incomes is worse in Wellington than London. Photo / Supplied

One Wellington law student, who didn't want to be named, spent months looking for a rental with three mates and competing against up to 40 people at house viewings.

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But - after eventually finding a five-bedroom home in Mt Victoria and advertising the tiny, spare room on Facebook for $175 per week - he was shocked to find many others doing it tougher.

About 30 messages flooded in from people aged 19-to-32 who were full-time workers, university graduates and overseas workers, including a teacher from England, cricket coach and one person who was living in a boat shed.

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"I was expecting it to be a bunch of 19-to-20 year-olds asking us for this room, not the vast range of people with different life experiences and high qualifications who are able to afford better places," the student said.

"It is a case that anyone needing a place is applying for everything they can."

It comes as Wellington city rents are now the most expensive in the country, having jumped 10 per cent since last year to hit a record average price of $595 per week, according to Trade Me.

The capital's average rent was $45 more per week than in Auckland, while national rents also rose 5.3 per cent to hit a record high of $495 per week.

With almost 200,000 university students starting their studies next week, the added demand for properties was hitting renters of all walks of life, OneRoof editor Owen Vaughan said.

"The expected loss of tax breaks for landlords could also see the number of rental properties drop, as investors decide that it is better to withdraw from the market," he said.

CoreLogic head of research Nick Goodall said the rental demand was driven by continued strong population growth and the fact "we are not building enough properties to keep up with that".

Dunedin property consultant Joe Nidd says demand for rentals in the southern city is the strongest he has seen in years. Photo / Supplied
Dunedin property consultant Joe Nidd says demand for rentals in the southern city is the strongest he has seen in years. Photo / Supplied

Unaffordable house prices in Auckland also meant fewer people were able to buy homes and were consequently stuck in the rental cycle for longer, further adding to demand.

International workers, such as Italian chef Fabio Salamone, were also among those being hit by the rental squeeze.

The 27-year-old arrived in Wellington three weeks ago and found a job within days but has so far been unable to find a room to rent.

Having lived in London, Italy and Australia, he said he was shocked to find the cost of renting and living compared to incomes to be worst in New Zealand.

Having promised his new boss three months' work, he is now unsure if he'll stick around longer because it is so hard to save money.

Elsewhere, "desperate" Hamilton renters - including pensioners, an 84-year-old woman and single mothers and fathers - were filling the Private Rentals Waikato District Facebook page with requests for rentals.

One "retired gent looking after two grandsons and a dog" recently posted that he would move anywhere in Waikato for a decent three- or four-bedroom home.

Students were also being hit hard, with Waikato Students' Union president Nathan Rehui still on the hunt for a rental, despite spending weeks looking.

He had initially hoped to get a two-bedroom flat with a mate but found it too expensive so had now banded together with three friends to look for a four-bedroom home.

Students struggling to find rentals had now become one of the major jobs the union's advocacy unit spent its time dealing with, he said.

The shortage was also hitting New Zealand's other great university town of Dunedin in the far south, according to Joe Nidd, the owner of Nidd Realty.

He said a combination of population growth and more first home buyers snapping up properties rather than investors had led to a rental shortage affecting renters from all walks of life.

"We are getting a lot of quality applications on many properties and that hasn't always been the case down here," he said.

"Owners typically are not having to compromise now - they will usually have a choice of three or four excellent tenants after the vetting process.

"That shows the level of competition out there for renters."