Frozen out

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These four freezing Canadians are not alone. 

A first-ever survey of Wakatipu residential tenants finds a third dissatisfied with their digs – especially during cold winter months. 

Last Sunday, Mountain Scene found the foursome in the lounge of their $450-a-week flat, huddled together under duvets and sleeping bags with hot water bottles. 

“We thought it was warmer in New Zealand,” Anissa Welsh, 22, says. 

“We were a bit shocked when we heard there was no insulation. We have electric heaters but we don’t use them because we’re scared about the price.” 

Overall, the working holidaymakers are happy with their three-bedroom Panorama Terrace pad – it’s a spacious house with reasonable rent and a great view, they say. It’s just tough to heat, despite having a coal fire in the lounge. 

If things get too much, they head to Queenstown Library to read in the warmth. 

The survey of 220 renters by consultancy Ascari for the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust shows the Canadians’ gripes are commonplace. 

“Poorly maintained houses which are cold, damp and difficult to heat during winter months are among the main reasons why renters often move between properties,” the survey report says. 

“Queenstown has a large proportion of poorly maintained rental properties.” 

Face-to-face interviews were held with 112 tenants spread throughout the Wakatipu. Another 108 responded online. 

Visitors or foreign workers with only short-term visas were excluded to ensure the study covered true residents only. The approximately 33 per cent of tenants dissatisfied with current rental properties gave three main reasons:

  • Too costly to heat
  • Too small or crowded 
  • Too old or in need of repair.

Some tenants complain about rent being too dear but most reckon their accommodation is “fairly priced and good value” – although many qualify this by adding “for Queenstown”. 

Despite gripes, most tenants are stuck on the resort. 

Thirty-five per cent have been here five years or more and another 45 per cent between one and five years. Just 20 per cent have lived here less than 12 months. 

Yet despite 80 per cent being either long-term or fairly long-term, tenant unhappiness with rental properties shows up in one stark stat. Fifty-three per cent of tenants have been in their current accommodation less than a year. 

Perhaps of most interest to survey sponsor Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust, is that 76 per cent of tenants aspire to becoming homeowners. 

But “several renters simply said, ‘We cannot afford to buy a house in Queenstown’,” researchers report. 

An unnamed respondent says: “I have a high-profile job in Queenstown, however it pays very poorly. Even the mortgage adviser laughed when I said I wanted to look into buying a home.” 

The survey also leaves Queenstown’s affordable-housing trust with some work to do – 68 per cent of those surveyed hadn’t even heard of it.

$500 power bill and still freezing

One unnamed – and unhappy – survey respondent tells a tale all too familiar to local renters. 

Their 1967 three-bedroom house has no heat pumps or woodburner and tenants spend over $500 a month on electricity. 

“The sad thing is, we’re still freezing – this massive cost doesn’t even keep us warm. 

“We do have a nice view though.”