This is the story of a few minor gripes.
I share it in the hope that other people will do the same with their stories; and in the knowledge that minor gripes are minor.
The last time I rented a place by myself, the landlord was running the place solo, rather than through an agency.
It was a flat in Wellington, so the wind whistling through the many cracks, and the bits of the structure that were falling off or threatening to, and the NSA-level audibility of the lives of those above me were to be taken as read.
It was cheap, which is to say that rent took up only about 40% of my income, and I only had to go to loan sharks 4 times in the 2-and-a-bit years I lived there to pay power bills. So far, so precisely what I signed up for.
When I moved in, I made sure the landlord noted that the place was still dirty, and that this would be taken into consideration when I moved out. For the uninitiated, dirty is a term of art in the world of rented accommodation which means that every surface is coated with filth. I cleaned the place while it was conveniently empty. Empty is a term of art in the world of rented accommodation which means that the previous tenant, or possibly the landlord, had stripped the space of everything which wasn't nailed down. No light fitting was shaded, no wooden floor with 5mm gaps to let the damp up was covered by a rug, nothing existed to suggest that this was a place a human might live, and not a basement/gallery awaiting a John Cage recital.
The thing in the shower that holds the soap and stuff had been removed. So I guess I lied before - actually they'd taken something that had been nailed down. You could tell because the nails were still sticking out, rusting.
Renters and Rentiers are rolling their eyes at this point. Who would complain about this stuff? This is standard. We all live this way now. No one lives any other way. If you're rolling your eyes, you're not wrong. (It's Wrong. But You're Not.) But I beg leave to present
A brief list of the things one might not expect to face in renting a flat, even in Wellington:
- The police raid on my house 3 days into my tenancy, seeking the previous tenant; this occurred at 3am, and when I enquired with the local constable whether this was standard practice, they responded 'Welcome to Newtown!'
- That time the mouse ate through the upstairs dishwasher supply pipe, inundating their floor, and my ceiling, and my floor, and my stuff.
- The week in winter where the shower offered two options: freezing torrent and scalding dribble. The landlord organised a plumber after I sent the following text: "Any word on the shower? It's just that it's been 4 days and I work in customer service, and the customers don't seem to like the smell." This was a bit of hyperbole - I was in fact getting up half an hour earlier so I could shower at work. My work at the time provided showers, even though it wasn't a legal obligation. They just seemed to think it was the kind of thing people should have. The plumber diagnosed Cylinder Installed By Cowboy; on his second callout for the same problem he ignored the Landlord's orders and put in a new mixer so he wouldn't have to come (and I paraphrase) deal with this bullshit next fuckin month.
- That feeling when your toilet becomes the escape valve for all backed-up wastewater in a three-storey building, meaning a literal fountain of literal shit explodes therefrom every time someone upstairs engages a washing machine or drains a sink. The landlord, to his credit, called a plumber promptly; I think he was inspired by the tone of my phone call, which was pretty much the exact tone you'd expect from someone who is dialling with one hand while the other hand uses a squeezemop to keep a two-inch deep tsunami of I-hope-I'm-not-overemphasising-this actual shit in the bathroom and out of the kitchen. The plumber cleared the blocked pipe and diagnosed Plumbing Installed By Cowboy; when I asked how we might avoid the problem in future he just looked at me the way you look at a child when they ask why everybody has to die.
I don't want to paint the landlord as a monster here. A few hours later he contacted me and offered to engage cleaners. It probably came across as weird that I told him not to bother. It's just that rather than spend a few hours in a house that stank of shit because a quarter of the floor space was covered in shit, I had spent those few hours cleaning up the shit, already. Because, well, shit. I dunno.
This is the story of a few minor gripes. This guy was by no stretch the worst landlord I've ever had. Pretty much everyone I know has a worse landlord story than mine.
Still, I was relieved when he engaged a property manager. By that stage, the grass on the back lawn was up to my nose. I could've organised a mower myself, obviously, but once it reached waist-height it kind of turned into a game. How high will the grass get before the landlord notices? Can I partially fund my rent by selling grazing to drought-stricken dairy farmers? The property manager ended all that kind of fun. He was regular, and efficient, and he sorted things the moment they were brought to his attention. The rent went up, obviously, when he was engaged. Which sort of makes sense, right? I mean you get what you pay for.
Which is why the end of my tenancy came as such a shock. I gave notice. I moved out. I left the place spotless, and with new light fittings. I got the bond form from Mr Efficient. He'd charged me two days extra rent because I moved out on a Saturday but my rent period ran Thursday to Thursday.
Except of course that he was quite incorrect. My rent period, like the Standard Western Model for a week, ran from a Sunday to a Saturday. I know I moved in on a Sunday, because that was the one day that I could move in, because that was the one day that I wasn't working and my friend with a station wagon also wasn't working.
I know I moved out on a Saturday, because that was the one day that I wasn't working and my friend who had a friend with a station wagon also wasn't working, and we spent that Saturday scrubbing the place spotless so that, even though I'd made that note about the place being dirty, there was No Way They Could Fuck With My Bond.
It was correct to say that I paid rent on a Thursday, because that was my payday at work, and I'd set the AP up that way so that I would never once be even 5 minutes late with the rent. Not even when I had to go to a loan shark to pay the power bill. Not even when I did teacher training and I had to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave from my part time job. I paid that rent on a Thursday, every fortnight, even if it meant dumping an ice-cream container full of busking change on the counter at Newtown Kiwibank so the AP wouldn't bounce. Even if it meant swallowing 30-odd years of lapsed-Presbyterian pride and begging friends for loans. Even when my band got an actual paid gig for once in forever and I had to tell my band mates, who never got paid for a lot of hard work, that once again they weren't getting paid because I have no other way to make rent this week than to let's-face-it steal the money you all worked for. I agree wholeheartedly that rent was paid on a Thursday, and I should know because I never missed One Fucking Thursday, ever.
But a week, I tried to explain, starts on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday. And fuckit, even if it doesn't, I moved in on a Sunday and moved out on a Saturday. So, I suggested, I'm not paying you two days of rent.
The property manager would not budge. He was owed. He would have his pound of flesh. So I said to him, Okay. You are welcome to invoice me for two days of rent, and I will dispute that invoice, and this discussion will be had in the tenancy tribunal. If they say I owe you two days' rent, I'll pay you. But we will not split this bond. The bond only gets split if both parties agree, and as you may have picked up, I do not agree. He said, "You must be joking". But I wasn't. I can read. I guess maybe he can too, because after some let's-call-it discussion, he sighed and said, "All right, you'll have to go fill out another bond form, I guess". So I did, and I sent it, and Tenancy called me, and said...
"What are we supposed to do with this bond form? It's got no number at the top."
To which I replied with a brief (but probably not brief enough for them) version of the story above, ending with "...so he told me to fill out another bond form with the full amount on it, and I put in all the details that they put in, except I changed it so I'm getting the full bond rather than a split because"
"Yep thanks we feel like we understand your story thanks. But if you put in all the details they put in, that means they didn't put in the number at the top. Why didn't they put in the number at the top?"
"I dunno. What's the number at the top?"
It's the number assigned to the bond when it's lodged. My bond didn't have such a number. Because my landlord failed to lodge it. Which is a bad thing landlords shouldn't do. Tenancy indicated they'd be interested in speaking to my landlord about this matter, and I said that the place was now handled by a property manager, and gave his details.
It was the weirdest thing. 20 minutes later the property manager was on the phone, seeking to confirm with me the quickest way to send me the full amount of the bond plus a little something to say thank you for your loyal tenancy. The money was in my account the same day.
This is the story of a few minor gripes. Anyone who has rented in New Zealand can top this story. Because anyone who has rented in New Zealand has taken part in a marketplace whose twin currencies are money and contempt. It is contempt that leads someone who is demonstrably, thousands-of-dollars-in-fines-ably in the wrong to tell you "You must be joking" when you mention legal rights which can be googled in .69 seconds. It is contempt that makes a class of people who will charge you almost half of your income to wade in do-I-have-to-say-this-again actual human shit and take a cold shower afterwards believe that they have a right to inquire whether you have visited a KFC recently. Say what you like about KFC. I've used their toilets before, and they never exploded.
It is contempt that you can read in the Image Macros (For I Will Not Call Them Memes) generated by Quinovic Property Managers, in which they try to curry favour with the Rentiers by belittling the lives of the Renters, as if to say "You, sir, are an arsehole. And we are arseholes too. What a team we will make!" when in fact the rent-seekers and their rent-on-rent-seeking middlemen can't be considered arseholes at all - an arsehole at least produces something. Rent-seeking produces nothing. Seeking rent on rent-seeking produces nothing squared. At best a property manager is a haemorrhoid. Write that on a picture, Quinovic. If you can spell it.
My rent went up when my landlord employed a property manager. Because you get what you pay for. Because markets are the way to decide what things are worth. Because if you don't like the product, you are free to buy another, better product, and the providers of inferior product will have to lift their game to earn your dollar.
This is what people will tell you when you tell them you had to mop up actual shit just so someone could charge you two days' rent you didn't owe them out of a bond they never lodged.
But this is pretzel logic.
If I'm paying for the property manager's services, why the mean Image Macros about my social life? If the landlord is paying, why the rent increase? If this is a free market, where are the nimble competitors vying for my custom?
Living in a house is not buying a widget, and Property Managers know this perfectly well. They work where they work precisely because in anything approaching a genuinely free market it would be impossible to insert yourself between the seller of a widget and the buyer of a widget and charge both of them extra while insulting the buyer and misrepresenting the seller. Living somewhere is a basic human need. Providing somewhere to live is entering a complex and fraught relationship. A market is a pitifully inept metaphor for what goes on when people are forced to live in other people's houses. Contempt has no place in the proceedings. And until they can cure themselves of their contempt, neither do the Quinovics.