Top dollar asked for slum flats

Landlords are renting unfit, filthy homes as Christchurch's rental problems worsen.

Christchurch's post-earthquake shortage of rental homes has pushed up rents and led to long queues to view homes.

Helen Gatonyi, manager of Tenants Protection, said tenants were desperate and would take almost anything. Some unscrupulous landlords were taking advantage of the situation.

She had seen homes rented with external walls full of holes, carpet wet from leaks, and mouldy curtains, and properties left dirty and unrepaired between tenancies.

"It's really, really distressing for people. They are accepting rubbish, and staying in rubbish. They know if they don't take it, somebody else will.

"There's a whole market of dumpy, awful, substandard housing now emerging."

Gatonyi expected the problem to get much worse as winter arrived, and said children and tenants with health problems were starting to suffer.

The rental shortage meant landlords could pick and choose tenants, and homebuyers leaving damaged homes were pushing long-term tenants out of the market.

"God forbid if you made a mistake in your past and didn't pay your rent 10 years ago. God forbid if you happen to be of colour. If you are one of those people who previously would have been on a Housing New Zealand waiting list, you've got no chance in hell."

Gatonyi said she had heard more cases of racial discrimination against tenants since the earthquakes skewed the market in favour of landlords. "It's expressed in subtle ways, but it's there."

Tenants say its not uncommon for 70 or 80 people to turn up to view rentals, and of landlords to hold "rent auctions" at the gate.

One told The Press, "If you've got a dog or no job, you've got no show."

Tenant Sarah Johnson looked at a Phillipstown house with three broken windows boarded up, no hot water cylinder, no curtains or carpet, and "the heat pump was sitting on the floor where it had fallen off the wall".

The house had knee-high grass and weeds, and rubbish, including a discarded shopping trolley, on the front lawn.

Johnson said the landlord wanted $360 a week for it.

"I asked him if he was going to fix it up. He said he wouldn't do anything to it, because someone would rent it anyway.

"I just burst into tears when I got back into the car. I've been looking weeks and weeks for a house and there's just nothing."

Johnson, who lost her job in the earthquake, needs to shift out of her Addington rental home along with her young son and their pet dog so the owner can do repairs.

Many of the rental homes she had seen were damaged and would-be tenants were bidding up rents, she said.

Tenancy laws say homes must be safe and healthy and kept in a "reasonable" state of repair by landlords.

Some letting agencies are demanding an upfront "holding fee", usually equivalent to a week's rent, refundable to unsuccessful applicants but not to anyone changing their mind or whose circumstances change.

Figures from the Department of Building and Housing show average rents in Christchurch have risen about 10 per cent in the past year, with the average cost of a three-bedroom home over the summer $330 in Sydenham-Woolston, $360 in St Albans, and $450 in Fendalton-Merivale.

Listings on Trade Me yesterday included asking rents of over $800 a week for some ordinary-looking three and four bedroom homes in Linwood, St Albans and Bryndwr, and $690 a week for a one-bedroom furnished unit in the central city.

The Press