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Rents in Chch close to levels in Auckland

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2014
Jenna Harris
Joseph Johnson/Fairfax NZ
SOCIAL CONSCIENCE: Jenna Harris refuses to charge a letting fee and never asks tenants to pay exorbitant rents.

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Christchurch is becoming one of the most expensive places in New Zealand to be a tenant, with the average rent only $20 a week cheaper than in Auckland.

A just-released Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) report shows in greater Christchurch, including Selwyn and Waimakariri, the average weekly rent was $431 at the end of April - about 13 per cent up on the previous year.

Auckland's average weekly rent was $451 - 4 per cent higher, the Housing and Construction Quarterly report says.

Christchurch rents are on track to reach Auckland levels by the end of the year, yet the average Auckland household earns about $220 a week more.

City missioner Michael Gorman said the report showed the market had "no sympathy for the poor".

It highlighted the need for the Government to make an "enormous injection" of social housing in Christchurch, he said.

"It seems to me that a caring society ensures there is safe, affordable accommodation for its citizens.

"We are not doing that."

Gorman said more people in Christchurch could no longer afford rents and were forced to live in cars, garages and sheds.

"Living in safe and healthy houses is just beyond the reach of ordinary people."

Gorman said he did not know how people were going to sustain more increases.

Landlords have upped rent prices across the board in Canterbury due to a shortage of rental properties.

One bucking the trend is Jenna Harris.

She manages 155 tenancies for Christchurch Apartments, owned by her mother Liz Harris, as well as the 200 rooms at Wigram Lodge.

Jenna Harris refuses to charge a letting fee and never asks tenants to pay exorbitant rents.

"We think, ‘what could we afford if we were looking for a place, what would we pay for it?'."

Jenna Harris said she usually set new tenancies at the median of the market value.

Rents for existing tenants were set at the low end of market rents.

"We make sure we are not in the mid to high range. We consider the tenants before we go around putting up rents," she said.

Their two-bedroom apartments in the central city and Merivale are rented out at between $290 and $380 a week, fully furnished. The market rental in the central city was between $330 and $435, Harris said.

She said many tenants stayed with them long-term because they were looked after.

"We like people to be happy and have relationships with our tenants.

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"We charge three to four weeks' bond, which they get back at the end."

One of the Harris' tenants, Jo Saunders, who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment for almost four years, said she felt respected as a person and, in turn, respected the property.

"It's not just about the rent, it's about that things get fixed when you call them."

PRICES RISING

People buying and building homes in Christchurch have not escaped rising costs.

House prices in Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn feature in the top four fastest growing regions in New Zealand. They have all risen 8 per cent during the 12 months to April this year. Auckland still topped the list after increasing 14 per cent. The report showed the average house value in Christchurch was $451,794 at the end of April.

The average annual household income in Auckland for the year ended June 2013 was $95,138 and in Canterbury it was $83,588, Statistics New Zealand's Household Economic Survey says. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Housing and Construction Quarterly report shows the cost of building a standard house in Christchurch rose 11.3 per cent - to $1350 per square metre - in the year ended March 2014.

The increase is more than double the annual increases faced by Auckland (4.3 per cent) and Wellington (4.6 per cent).

But Cantabrians appear undeterred. The number of new homes being built in greater Christchurch has steadily increased. Some 542 residential dwellings received consent in greater Christchurch, including Selwyn and Waimakariri, in the March quarter.

- The Press

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