What's it like to be a renter?

Last updated 13:30 01/08/2013

TOUGH TIMES: The demand for rental properties is putting a strain on both tenants and landlords.

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As home ownership gets further and further out of reach for the average Kiwi, rental life is a long-term reality for many of us.

For some, it can be a great experience. You can get a great home without the responsibility and you can meet new people through flatting.

For others, it can be a $200-a-week nightmare - that is if you can even get a house to start with.

We want to hear your rental stories. Share them by clicking the green 'contribute' button below.

 In our first reader story, Alison Adams-Smith shares her frustrations with rental agents. 

The whole process rental agents use to classify people as worthy of renting or not is based on a series of characteristics that would be illegal when considered in almost any other forum: discrimination on the basis of income, appearance, manners, number of children, relationship type, involvement with the tribunal, employment history and employment status. It is time the law was changed.

I read Catherine Harris' article titled how to get to the front of the rental queue with increasing incredulity, followed by fury by the end.

Some of her tips were no-brainers, like being polite, being prepared and filling in the rental form as best you can.

Some comments were more marginal, like dressing the best you can, because the 'nice and tidy' people go to the top of the list. There are plenty of people who are wonderful tenants, but may not have the money to dress up to the nines to look at properties. If this is a competition about how good someone looks, then the beautiful people will always win.

The section on being honest is really just a list of reasons why prospective tenants should be anything but, especially if you have a bad credit history, a dog, were once bankrupt, don't earn much, or ever went to the Tenancy Tribunal (even if you were not at fault).

The questions agents ask these days are shockingly invasive - even an employer is not allowed to ask questions of such a personal nature. Any possible dirt they can find on you helps them eliminate you from the race.

And finally, shock horror, one agent's "previous tenants even failed to mention an extra child". Am I reading this right? What kind of world do we live in where it's a rental crime to have one child too many?

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Anyone who makes up false references, or intends to skip without paying the rent deserves what they get, but the vast majority of people just want a decent place to live. One slip-up in their past may mean they can never find a place to rent again. And anyway, if the land agent wants the renter to be honest, are they not also required to do the same? Half-truths to questions about when the cracked window will be fixed, if the rent will increase, how insulated the house is or whether the people upstairs are noisy are usually the order of the day, I have found.

Agents like us to attend viewings so they can size us up against the other prospective tenants. They also want to know about every person in the house, so they can chase you all if something goes wrong. It appears that once again children are a definite disadvantage. And heaven forbid that you should "sneak round the back" and look at something the agent doesn't want to show you - what was that about being honest?

Lastly, the credit check. Apparently you shouldn't be offended if your income doesn't stack up to a third or less of the rent. Once again people on low incomes are out of the running. It has been a very long time since the lowest earning half of New Zealanders paid only a third of their income in rent. A credit check may be a necessary part of the application process, but there are still plenty of private landlords who don't do this, who are none the worse off.

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