Applying for your first flat is a huge milestone for many young Kiwis. Whether you’re a student moving out of a shared dorm or a young adult with your first job and keen to fly the nest, leaving your childhood home is a big stepping stone. But before you celebrate your newfound freedom, you’ve got to secure a place to live.
Securing a flat can be difficult, depending on where you live. Student-friendly towns like Palmerston North and Dunedin have plenty of suburbs full of homes rented to students and young people with no problems. However, if you’re moving to a town or city with a more diverse population or want to move away from student accommodation and rent somewhere a bit nicer, the process can be a bit tougher. Older renters often have more disposable income and a history of flatting that you don’t have.
Fear not! The key to finding your first flat in New Zealand is always to be prepared.
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Before considering applying for a flat, get your ducks in a row. Presumably, you won’t be renting a flat on your own. Figure out how many people you will be sharing a flat with and what each person’s budget looks like. With your crew together, you can develop some parameters for what you want. Some questions you’ll need to agree on are:
What’s our maximum weekly budget for rent? You’ll need to figure out the ‘ceiling,’ i.e. the maximum you all agree to, before you start looking for rentals.
How will we split the rent? You can choose to split rent equally or split the rent based on the size of the bedrooms and whether there is a room with an ensuite.
How many bathrooms do we want? If you’re moving in with five other tenants, one bathroom might not be enough.
What locations do we want to look at? Consider suburbs close to workplaces, schools, or the city centre, so you’re not spending time in traffic daily.
Do we need parking, and who gets priority? Decide which flatmates can park on the property or apply for a parking permit. Some cities have limits on how many parking permits each household is allowed. Think about charging for an onsite car park if more than one person has a car.
Once you know what you are looking for, you can go forth and conquer. The more people you have looking for flats, the faster you will find one.
You’ve found the ideal flat and want to apply. Don’t be precious about applying for one rental at a time. In New Zealand, it’s illegal to charge tenants any money for viewing or applying for a flat. This means you can apply for as many as you like as long as you have viewed the property. If you’re approved for a flat, the landlord or property manager will ask you to sign a lease. Until you sign the lease, you’re free to decline the property.
Before you’re approved for a property, you’ll need to put your application in. Most property managers want a variety of documentation, including:
References from each flatmate - professional and personal
Proof of income - so they know you can make rent each week
Identification - a driver’s licence, 18+ card or passport
Previous rental history - if you have it
The rental market can be competitive. If you don’t have any rental history, don’t worry. One way to make your application stand out is to type and get personal references for each flatmate.
This could be as simple as a one-paragraph reference from a manager, lecturer, or person in your community that can vouch for you. Ideally, the paragraph will talk about your positive attributes, like how punctual, tidy, or responsible you are. Print this information out on paper and hand it to the letting agent. While you’ll often be asked to apply for a property online, your application will still stand out.
Tip: Make sure you ask before putting someone down as a reference. It’s best practice (and kind) to ask permission!
There are pros and cons to putting all tenants on the lease. If you have lots of flatmates, putting everyone on the lease can be a pain when people move out. You’ll have to sign new paperwork to remove their name and add a new flatmate. On the other hand, everyone is responsible for the physical state of that flat.
It’s always a good idea to nominate someone as the head tenant, regardless of who is on the lease. This way you have one point of contact for dealing with the property manager. As they are responsible for communication and ensuring things get done (i.e. rent is paid on time, passing on information, reminding the rest of the flat about inspections etc.) they should get the first pick of the bedrooms too. They should get the final say when it comes to making decisions.
Most flats tend to put more than one person on the lease, so that the responsibility is shared between a few tenants.
While looking for a flat, remember that you don’t have to settle for a poorly maintained flat that lacks the security you need to feel safe in your home. At the viewing, look out for:
Heating: It’s now a Healthy Home standard that all homes have fixed heating in the living areas. Make sure there is a radiator or heat pump that works. A fireplace, portable heater or fan heater does not meet regulations.
Smoke alarms: The law states that there must be smoke alarms in every bedroom and within three metres of any entranceways.
Ventilation: Your kitchen and bathroom must have an extractor fan for smoke and steam.
Check for damage: It’s up to you how much damage is acceptable. Most rentals will have minor wear and tear to walls, floors and benchtops. Just make sure you take photos of these scuffs and scrapes before you move in.
Consider the neighbourhood: Even if you are obeying noise regulations, some neighbours will take issue with young people playing music in their backyard to having regular gatherings. While it’s not always justified, moving to the CBD, a city fringe suburb or a student-friendly area might be a better option than a quiet residential street.
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