In the past week, I have found myself noticing every speck of dirt or dust around the house. I have been scrutinising window frames and skirting boards, and manically cleaning the place, in anticipation for people to come through and view it soon.
We recently handed in our notice for our rental property on Bastia Hill, which means the property manager wants to trot through prospective tenants who may want to move in after us.
This means we will soon have the pleasure (not) of having strangers mince through the place we call home. They will walk through our bedrooms and ogle our things. They will look at our family photos and art, and probably pass judgment over how we keep the place.
Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. It is an awkward and intrusive part of renting that is designed only to serve the landlord, by getting new tenants in quickly.
But we should be used to the feeling of intrusion by now. Renting in Aotearoa means that every three months, a property manager, or landlord can turn up and inspect the property.
They say they are only there looking for damage or to discuss any issues tenants may have, but it very rarely feels like something designed to support us.
Our property manager comes through with her phone and takes photos of all sorts of things – walls, fixtures, cupboards.
Last inspection, they noted a load of washing in one room, how wet the bathmat was, and she scored each room on tidiness. They made notes about a mark on a wall, not sure whether it was there before we moved in or not.
I work fulltime and have two rambunctious little boys, which means the lead up to these inspections is stressful and often ends up feeling like a housekeeping competition more than anything else. It is an awful and mana degrading experience and reminds me of the feeling of being a child sitting outside the school principal's office.
Three-monthly visits like this are overkill for any family and seem in my opinion more about making property managers feel useful rather than achieving a huge amount for landlords or tenants.
People from overseas have also commented about how unusual the practice is. Friends from Canada said they never had inspections in their rentals back home, and that their experience here is ridiculous, and I agree.
We were recently issued with a Breach of Tenancy Notice for rubbish in the garage, weeding, a missed spot of vacuuming and a dirty mirror in my room. A dirty mirror in my room, from my little boys' finger marks.
My partner was away so I asked if we could have an extra week to get everything sorted, but I was denied the extension.
It was a belittling experience and made me realise just how little power we have as tenants. We have loved this home and made it our own. But we are reminded by tenancy laws and practices that as renters, we are second-class.
The pressure to "be a good tenant" is reinforced by the fact that we must pay a bond before moving in – mine was about $1600. Landlords have all the power to hold the bond. It is often a nervous wait to see if you will get it all back. You just never know.
The whole power dynamic between tenant and landlord is not right. As tenants, we should have more influence over the place we call home. We should not feel so vulnerable, especially considering what we are paying for rent these days.
In Whanganui, prices are quickly etching upwards of $300 or $400 a week. A friend of mine looking for a place saw a two-bedroom house in a rough street in Whanganui East being advertised for $370 per week.
People on benefits cannot afford that kind of money, and it is a tough slog for single parents or families on low incomes. Those pop-up cabins are everywhere now. Local families are forced to overcrowd or be homeless. Māori communities are disproportionately impacted.
The cost of rent also makes it impossible for many families to save enough money for a deposit on a house. And while you are saving, the goalpost is moving further away.
In the past year, housing prices have jumped 20 per cent. We have seen record highs in Manawatū and Whanganui. The nationwide median house price is now $725,000. That is out-of-control and seriously disturbing. If you already own a home, understand your privilege.
This is an impossible situation for many of us and I am struggling to have faith that this government will do anything about it. Like a few of my peers, the only way I can afford my first home is with the help of my parents, but not everyone is so lucky.
Many of us are completely stuffed by the housing market and sadly there is no reprieve in sight. The least some property managers could do is give long-term tenants and families a break.