The Student's Guide to Everything

The Student's Guide to Everything: university student and graduate life from a New Zealand perspective

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Avoiding homelessness: Find your flat now!

Have you got your living quarters sorted for the university year? Don't wait until the end of February when everyone else wants one too - start hunting now!

So how do you avoid having to sleep on the street next to smelly hobos as the rain blows onto your cardboard box from a drainpipe in the corner? Read on....

1. Research, research, research!

First, do your research. Look at as many different flats as you can on TradeMe etc before you invest the time and effort of going to each flat. That way, you'll get a sense of what's out there in terms of price and quality. Use the internet, ask friends, look at noticeboards at uni. The best flats start going in January, and most are gone by the middle of February. So start looking now. Move fast (i.e. within the day) if you see a good one.

At the end of November, as people move back to their parents’ houses for the summer, flats in major cities often become a lot cheaper for the summer period. Take advantage of the remaining flatmates’/ landlord’s desperation to fill the flat – many are heavily discounted and in good locations.

  • How much are you willing to spend? What is the maximum you can afford?
  • How far away are you willing to live from uni?
  • What housing conditions are you willing to live in?
  • What housing conditions are you not willing to live in?
  • Furnished or unfurnished accommodation? (Do you have your own stuff?)
  • How safe are the areas you are considering? It's not as big a deal in NZ compared to, say, New York or Chicago, but cheaper rent isn't always more important than not being mugged.
  • If you live further from uni, what transport is available? What will it cost to get to uni/ work every day?
  • What about late night transport home after clubbing? Will you have reliable transport home? In many parts of New Zealand, buses and trains stop running at midnight, and sleeping at the bus station is cold if you can't shell out for a taxi.
While it may be cheaper to live further away from uni, you need to balance distance from uni with travel time and price of rent. A good general formula is (travel costs 1 way x 10 trips per week + rent per week). Compare this against the cost of a similar flat closer to uni which doesn't require travel costs. Try not to live too far away, unless you can stay with your parents and avoid paying rent. Decreased rent costs from living in a distant area is often made up in travel costs and time spent. Time you can't spend doing other things. Like that last-minute assignment. Or a mad dash to class. You're also at the mercy of any rail/ bus strikes, or a slow traffic jam.

2. Making sure it's not a dump

Once you have narrowed down your search to about 10 houses in your price range and area, call or email the advertisers to arrange a time to visit.


How big is the room? Do you have your own furniture that has to fit? What if you can’t fit your stuff through the door? Do you need a furnished house? Try to imagine how you might arrange the room. You're going to be spending a lot of time in here, you might as well enjoy it. Most student flats will come furnished, which is better since you don't have to spend money buying your own from the Sallies and dragging it home. You don't have to lug everything up the stairs. And when you leave, you just pack up your clothes and PSP. No moving vans needed!

How broken is the house? All student houses are usually 'broken', to a greater or lesser extent. Think about the checklist you put together earlier of housing conditions you're not willing to live in - are there any things on that list in this house?
  • Mould/ mildew on the walls and ceiling – this shows the flat is damp. It's unhealthy. If you are asthmatic, stay away! You'll have to live here in winter, too, and it will be much worse. Touch the walls to check for condensation.
  • Broken or dripping taps?
  • Check the lights work.
  • Open the kitchen and bedroom cupboards.
  • Is there a washing machine, or a laundromat close by? Any restrictions on where you can dry your washing? (Modern apartment blocks are more likely to have this restriction.)
Imagine what it would be like to study and live here. Is the bedroom separate and private? (I.e. no-one has to walk through your room to get to theirs.) Can you study here in peace? Or is there somewhere nearby you can go at all hours of the night, to study?

Ask the landlord about:
  • Noise levels – is there a bar or club nearby? Are 3am drag races down this street common?
  • Is the surrounding area safe at night?
  • What about proximity to amenities, e.g. supermarket, university, work? If you don't have a car, and the nearest supermarket visit involves a long sweaty walk up a big hill with heavy bags and no bus, it's going to get frustrating very quickly.
  • Are there any restrictions from the landlord regarding visitors, parties, etc? How can you contact them if there is an emergency?
  • Sunlight – does the flat get early morning sunlight? Does it lose the sun at 2pm? (This is more important if you know you get affected by the "winter blues".)
  • How much is the bond? 4 weeks' worth of rent is usually sufficient, although some may allow 2 weeks.
  • How much notice do you need to give when you want to move out? (Get that one in writing.)
  • Are you allowed to smoke in the house?

3. Winning the flatmate lottery

Don't flat with friends. Please don't. Not unless you're entirely sure you know what they're really like to live with. Lots of friendships have been broken this way. Who knew what disgusting habits he had, or that she had p*rn star-worthy sex with her boyfriend at 3am? You will discover horrible sides to your friends that you never knew they had!

Randoms are usually better. Pick randoms who you think you can get on with and eventually become friends with. Likewise, don't live with your parents until you're 24. You're supposed to be an adult. It won't help you pick up chicks, guys, if you're sneaking them back to your bunk bed.

What are your prospective flatmates like? Are they messy or clean? What are the deal-breakers? While you're looking around the house, pay attention to anything you think might annoy you later. Do dirty dishes left in the sink annoy you?

Once you move in, it's often a good idea to discuss expectations of cleaning, sharing the kitchen etc. so you're not surprised.

4. What if it goes pear-shaped?

You have rights as a tenant, and so does the landlord. But you both also have obligations to each other as well. The Department of Building and Housing has an excellent section on what rights you have as a tenant, and what your obligations are.

If something needs to be fixed, tell the landlord as soon as possible so they can sort it out. This is especially important if it could be dangerous.

If things really go pear-shaped, and you can't sort it out with the landlord yourself, the Tenancy Tribunal can step in. Try calling 0800 TENANCY (0800 83 62 62) for the department's helpline first.

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