Karl Puschmann: TVNZ’s Renters is everything wrong with NZ

OPINION:

Within 10 measly seconds I realised that TVNZ’s local series Renters was garbage.

The show’s opening sentence, delivered by an annoyingly smug voiceover, wasn’t just out of touch, it was out to lunch.

“The Kiwi obsession with home ownership remains a national pastime.”

This flabbergasting and quite wrong sentence purposefully blurred the line between home ownership and property speculation/investment. One is where you live with your loved ones, the other is a business. Refusing to see the difference and smudging the two together is a big part of the reason this country faces a devastating housing crisis.

It’s a national disgrace, not a bloody pastime.

The show’s second sentence was, if you can believe it, worse. “But if you’re not quite ready to buy you can be a renter.”

Excuse me? Not quite ready? Words this mindlessly oblivious could kickstart a revolution. Let them eat cake! Let them buy a house! Viva la Open Home!

The dream of home ownership has fast become a pipe dream for many. Auckland’s median house price is an unholy $1,100,000 and you’ll need an eye-watering 20 per cent deposit for the bank to talk mortgages with you.

In cold hard cash that’s $220,000. You used to be able to buy a house for that! If you’re trying to get on the property ladder you might as well as be trying to get on the moon. It’d be cheaper.

Fortunately there’s a bright side to our appalling housing situation – you can be a renter!

Oh, what joy! A renter! Living with pain-in-the-ass “inspections” every three months, relentlessly increasing rents and the knowledge that your fate – and roof – rests on the whims of others.

This long-running series, which I’d blissfully never heard of until this week, has just begun its ninth season. It’s a reality show that follows property managers around. Think of them as the hired goons of the landlord mafia.

“Renters, when they’re good they can be very good,” the voiceover guy tells us before warning, “When they’re bad, they can be catastrophic.”

Renters focuses on the latter, viewing tenants as nothing more than an unfortunate and undesirable side effect of generating money from a house. They’re only out to cheat, steal and destroy the homes provided by the hardworking, upright landlords of our beautiful country.

To that end we first trundle out to a burned house in Cromwell. The fire department reckoned a ciggy butt flicked into a wheelie bin as the previous tenants left started the fire, “but found no conclusive proof”.

We hear no more about that, but hear plenty about “the embers of financial distress”, the landlord faced after the fire revealed the place was riddled with asbestos. It left property manager Rochelle visibly upset she couldn’t rent out the burned husk.

“If we didn’t have the asbestos present we may have been able to have a tenant in there while the remedy work was going. Unfortunately due to that I’m unable to get anyone in there,” she moaned. “With asbestos its just not viable.”

Ya think? But even without asbestos the major repair work would’ve been noisy, dusty and quite unsafe to live around. Rochelle saw things differently.

“Cash-strapped landlords are a major concern for all New Zealanders.”

Are they? Really? I’m not so sure. The only people I ever hear concerned about a landlord’s lot are other landlords.

Meanwhile in Invercargill – or “the California of the South” as Renters preposterously calls it – property manager Tracy is processing requests for “a nice little unit down by the river”. By this she clearly meant, “a depressing and dark cinder-block unit surrounded by a concrete”.

She’d just booted the current tenants out and was miffed they wouldn’t let her bring prospective renters through until they’d left. Fair enough. I wouldn’t either. I also wouldn’t punch holes in the doors on my way out so my sympathies did have to swap back to Team Tracy after she showed the needless damage.

Renters also followed a third property manager whose story involved a meth user, almost $3000 of unpaid rent and the astounding sentences, “Those are pubes. Prue hates pubes.”

Look, landlords absolutely have a place in society and I can’t entirely blame them for gaming a system our major political parties are too cowardly to do much more than tinker at. There’s also myriad reasons people choose to rent rather than buy. The problem is soon people won’t have that choice. Many don’t now. No matter how “ready” they are.

Those thinking of leveraging their house to buy an investment property should watch Renters. Seeing the costs and associated risk of the landlord business may scare you off.

Everyone else, ignore it. Renters is not entertaining, it stereotypes tenants by highlighting extreme cases and it’s so tone-deaf it will make you want to grab your pitchfork and start a revolution.

Hmmm … ya know what, maybe you should watch it.

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