Wellington renters in dire straits as rental prices hit all-time high

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

There are calls for the Government to act on rental prices as the average weekly rent in Wellington hits an all-time high.

According to new figures from Trade Me, the capital’s median weekly rent hit a record-breaking $615 per week in January, surpassing Auckland prices which have also peaked at $590.

Wellington renters Kate* and James* have been looking for a rental property since December along with some friends and their cats.

They are currently in temporary accommodation after their lease ended and they were unable to find an affordable place to live.

James says they’ve applied for about 55 properties, but have been unable to secure even a viewing for some.

“We’ve created three budgets: an ideal budget, maximum budget and absolute maximum budget which we can’t afford but would still take if we desperately had to. Pretty much nothing has fallen below that maximum budget. We don't have the incomes to afford food on top of rent.”

Kate says not knowing when they’ll find a permanent place to live has taken a heavy mental toll on the pair.

“Coming from a different city and moving to Wellington this year I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be this bad. People are here to make as much profit as possible and it’s just horrific to be part of first-hand.”

It’s a struggle, too, for those who have secured a rental property. Emma’s* industry was badly affected by Covid-19, and she’s on the jobseeker benefit. Her weekly rent of $295 leaves her with just $21 after bills.

“I have no idea how people are meant to survive. For people who have no other options, especially long-term, it's horrendous.”

Hannah* says she moved into her current flat in January 2018. She hasn’t changed rooms but her weekly rent has gone up by $70 since then.

“When I moved in, I paid $180 for my room. This then increased to $205 in early March 2020. We just signed a new lease for a year and my new room price is going to be $250.”

She says no improvements have been made to the property in that time.

"'Market rental values for properties such as the property you are currently tenanting have increased since your tenancy started' - that was the exact wording for the increase,” she says.

“I’m frustrated with the whole rental system at the moment, and really feel like the Government isn’t acting enough to stop rental pricing going up and up and up.”

Trade Me’s property sales director, Gavin Lloyd, says Wellington rents have seen six months of “consistent growth”. The most expensive region in the city is Porirua, at an all-time high of $680 a week.

“January and February are typically very hectic months for the Wellington rental market. Lots of tenancies come up for renewal at this time of year and students start looking for a flat for the university year which creates very high demand.

“The other factor at play is that house prices in the Wellington region have been hitting records too. The average asking price for a Wellington property has climbed considerably in the last year. This keeps first home buyers in their rental property longer, while they save for a house deposit.”

Renters United spokesperson Geordie Rogers says rising rents have had a huge social impact.

“We've seen a lot of gentrification, especially in places like Porirua where there hasn't been much consideration for the people who live there. There needs to be a wide response to this. We need public housing, we need transitional housing and we need new stock.”

According to Trade Me’s data, every region in the country saw an annual increase in rent in January, with seven of the country’s 15 regions hitting all-time highs. Rents rose by 17% in Manawatū and Whanganui, 13% in Marlborough, and 11% in Northland.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government is working on housing supply and demand.

“It is something we’ve been concerned about and it is in our thinking with all the work we’ve been doing on housing. We also know some of the levers that we can pull on demand and other areas should make a difference as well, we're looking at what those are and we'll be making announcements shortly.”

Trade Me is expecting the New Year rush will lose some of its heat.

“We’re starting to head into the winter months when we do see rents typically cool, there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel there for renters out there.”

Rogers says that’s cold comfort for those needing somewhere to live right now.

“If something that you're willing to do is take a shorter rental period that might work, but then again you're going to be in the same situation in six months so it is very hard when the security isn't there.”

*Names have been changed