Christchurch's good landlords
The Christchurch rental market is squeezed and stories of bad landlords are rife. Beck Eleven speaks to some of the good ones.
There are gruesome stories on both sides of the landlord-tenant debate.
Yes, there are tenants who leave properties scattered with rubbish and rotting in filth but there are also landlords who neglect their investment and demand rental increases for already squalid properties.
Post-quake Christchurch created a new beast in the rental market. Anecdotal reports said prospective tenants were finding up to 50 rivals at viewings, and existing tenants were being stung with $100-a-week rent increases.
Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi says anyone buying an investment property with the intention of renting it out must learn and understand the trade.
"It is a business," she says. "Learn it. Understand it. There are plenty of ways to find out."
She points out that it is the only business for which the justice system formed a specific tribunal - the Tenancy Tribunal - which mediates between landlords and tenants unable to settle problems on their own.
"No other company has as many disputes that end up in a tribunal but what other business is as important to the wellbeing in our country?
"Whatever reason people get into renting out properties, they must understand it. Make home improvements and charge fair rent. Be professional. A good landlord doesn't let their tenant go into arrears. You can be friendly but always be professional, and having good communication is the key."
With many homeowners being forced out of their homes by the quakes or, more recently, by repairs, people are having to rent for the first time since buying their homes. Gatonyi says she is starting to hear from people in this situation who are amazed and appalled by the attitude of some landlords and the condition of some properties.
She advises on complaints over "key money" - incidentals for which the landlord is not legally entitled to charge, such as skimming off the top if they pay bills on behalf of the tenant, a pet fee or for inspections and to advertise on Trade Me.
What's more, she says, with home ownership growing further out of reach: "It is the rise of the second-class citizens".
"Tenants often feel betrayed or disrespected if landlords don't bother to tell them in person if the house is going on the market. We've had people get the news with a text or an email.
"There are good ones who have not succumbed to the culture of greed. Of course people understand that rent will go up as costs go up, but putting it up and not doing anything to improve the property is problematic.
"We often hear landlords say 'well, I showed them around, they knew what they were getting'.
"Maintain your asset. Sending another person's health down the gurgler is not OK."
Landlords Jock and Jo Scott
Jock and Jo Scott bought their investment property eight years ago.
It was tenanted when they signed and they agreed to keep the existing tenants. One month later, those tenants stopped paying rent and no amount of emailing, texting or calling could elicit a response.
"It was a baptism of fire," Jo Scott says.
"We learned your power as a landlord is stuff all if you want to evict people. We decided to make sure that if we got good tenants we would look after them.
"The one thing I say is communicate with us because we might be able to help you. We are relaxed and very hands-off landlords. If you ring and say there is a problem, we'll sort it out but you will find very quickly that if you can't pay your rent, contact us or I will grow horns - and I do."
The Scotts' current tenant has been in their unit for almost two years and Jo Scott says that in that time there have been no problems and certainly no rent hikes.
"Every time you re-tenant it's a risk.
"It's enough that she's in a damaged property. I don't understand how people can hike rents to ridiculous levels. How could you, in this market, take advantage of people's desperation?"
Scott says she wants her tenants to feel like they are at home.
"As long as you don't leave fist-sized holes in the walls, I'm happy."
Their tenant, Hannah Rutland
Between the September 2010 and February 2011 quakes, Hannah Rutland was struggling to find a small rental for herself and her two daughters, Aaliyah, 4, and Ama, 3. Every viewing she attended seemed to have "50 other people looking as well".
"Landlords seemed quite hesitant to let a single mum with kids in. There is a bit of stereotyping, I guess."
Rutland says the Scotts have been excellent landlords.
"If there's ever a problem, they get onto it that day. But there aren't that many problems because our area [Waltham] isn't as hard hit as some areas.
"I've been broken into a couple of times. Once, when there was a window smashed, they had it fixed by that afternoon.
"I just get on with it, they let me feel like it's my space and not just somewhere I'm staying.
"They only turn up when I need them or when they need to meet EQC at the property."
Some landlords, she says, get "on your case about everything" while doing little of the work she requests.
"And Jock is very handy so it means things are sorted. They're awesome.
"Especially now, since the quakes, it's really hard out there. A friend of mine just had her rent put up $80 a week. They haven't put my rent up at all."
Landlords Geoff and Emma Wallis
Geoff Wallis and his wife, Emma, have two rental properties in Christchurch. They decided to get into the rental business on the advice of Emma's family.
Although the couple are related to property managers, they look after their tenants themselves. Geoff is a kindergarten teacher and Emma looks after their three children so the rentals are their "future income insurance policies".
"We're lucky we've mostly had good tenants. We do go through a process of interviewing all potential tenants and a pretty thorough reference check."
They say one of the best ways to maintain the property is to let it in a state that's easy for the tenants to keep up with.
"And when a tenant makes a request, we action it pretty quickly. I definitely tell them that they should contact us the minute anything goes wrong or is damaged. If it's not something I can fix, I get a professional.
"In setting rent, it's always good to talk to other landlords about what's fair."
Their former tenant, Greg Signal
Canterbury University engineering student Greg Signal was one of the Wallis' tenants last year.
He says they were always approachable and seemed genuinely interested in how his courses were going. If there was gardening to be done, they always called first to arrange a time and gave the required 24 hours' notice.
"And when they turned up, they would always pop in to say hello," he says.
"They just seemed to actually care that we were warm enough and that everything in the house was in working order.
"I've been in a few flats before and never had too many problems but they were just really easy to deal with and made it feel like you were doing the right thing if you ever called with something wrong."
Landlady Jennifer Bertram
The key is a selection of reliable tradesmen, says longtime landlady Jennifer Bertram.
"I've been a landlady more than 50 years," she says. "My husband and I started [buying investment properties] when he was at university and we had one child with another on the way. We needed a house that could produce an income."
Post-quake, her Richmond rental was unliveable. EQC did the emergency repairs but went no further to make it habitable so Bertram called her team of trusted workmen and paid for that work herself.
"It's about having good relationships with tenants, being available if they need to discuss something, being careful about who you choose and good relationships with people who can fix things when they go wrong.
"I have very, very good tradespeople - some people have been with me for 20 years - so if anything goes wrong, the plumbing, the locks, anything, I can get it fixed immediately. The tenants know it will get done. I presume everyone is like that but unfortunately they're not."
She is particular about having smoke detectors in living rooms, the kitchen and all bedrooms and makes sure the batteries work.
"I nearly lost a tenant years ago because I didn't have one in the bedroom so I write it into my contracts now. I also know that whatever you put about looking after gardens in the contract, tenants just don't, so I make sure I have a gardener."
When Bertram let the Richmond flat to the Pettys, she had done a lot of work making sure it would be warm.
"I could have charged more but one has to be realistic. My rents are not low but they are not over the top either.
"The Pettys are a young couple. Five dollars doesn't mean much to some people but it is if you are tightly working a budget. I certainly wouldn't take advantage of people and get high rent just because I can."
Her tenants, Jessica and William Petty
Jessica moved to Christchurch from Utah, in the United States, to be with her husband, William, two years ago. They house-sat until they were able to find a good, affordable rental. Their one-bedroom home is part of a large house divided into three.
It was badly damaged in the quakes but their landlady remodelled the home without waiting for EQC.
"She just takes such good care of her tenants," Jessica Petty says.
"Whatever the time or the problem, she takes care of it immediately and it never comes out of your pocket.
"It's newly painted and remodelled. As long as you pay your rent on time - and we do - she takes care to make you comfortable.
"She's very personal and concerned, making sure I know of a good midwife or asking how my husband is.
"It's not just a business deal, she seems genuinely interested that we are all right.
"Our flat got fleas because of our cat and we couldn't get rid of them but she paid to have the place fumigated.
"Then she called one day and kept saying she was so sorry but because of insurance going up she had to put the rent up. My heart was in my mouth because my husband is a student and I'm not working. But it was by $5 a week and we can certainly do that.
"And before going on holiday she came round to make sure we had a list of tradesmen in case anything went wrong while she was away. She has really been ideal."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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