Finding a flat
Set an ideal amount (and a maximum) you can afford to pay for rent and cast your search net wide for a property. Sites like Trade Me and NZflatmates are great places to start, and there are plenty of local Facebook groups designed for people flat hunting. Think about how many flatmates you’d be comfortable living with and weigh up the pros of cons of a bigger vs. a smaller flat. Also, note whether the places you’re looking at are fully or partially furnished, as having a room already set up with a bed, or a lounge with a sofa, will save you some trouble.
How leases work
A lease is the legally binding agreement between a tenant and landlord that covers how long you’ll be renting the property, how much you’ll pay per week and your responsibilities. If everyone living in the flat signs the lease, you’ll all have tenancy rights – and obligations. Signing your lease means agreeing to its conditions, so be sure to read it carefully. If you breach the conditions of your lease, your landlord can have the right to evict you.
Are you a flatmate or a tenant?
You are a tenant if you’re named on the lease. Tenants in a house have more responsibilities than flatmates. They’re responsible for making sure rent is paid in full and on time, ensuring the bond is paid, and for any damage caused to the flat. Tenants can therefore have a say in who moves in and out of the house, and ask flatmates to pay their share of the bond.
Landlords usually require you to pay a bond when you move into their property. Essentially, it’s a security deposit, usually 2-3 weeks’ rent, and is held by Tenancy Services. It’s to cover things such as unpaid rent, damage to the property or any claims relating to the tenancy. You’ll need to fill out a bond lodgement form and have it signed by everyone who signed the lease. If you’ve honoured your lease and haven’t damaged the property, the bond should be returned to you when you move out.
How you’ll pay
Whose name goes on the bills for electricity, internet, etc? If it’s yours, you’re responsible for payment, even if flatmates leave without paying. Having everyone’s names on bills reduces the risk of being lumped with paying the bill solo. You might want to consider setting up a joint bank account, if the flat is reasonably stable. Each person can make automatic payments into the account, to be used to pay rent and communal bills.
What you can change in your flat
It should generally state in the lease what you can and can’t do without explicit permission from your landlord. You usually need permission to do things like have pets or make alterations to the property (e.g. painting walls and doing minor renovations).
When things go wrong
You might want to consider having contents insurance when you move into a flat. Contents insurance covers damage and loss of your belongings (including damage caused in a natural disaster). It’ll cover anything from a pair of designer sunnies to a television. It also provides some third-party cover if you damage someone else’s belongings in the home you’re living in.
As a young renter, it can be tempting to ignore the need for contents insurance, but consider the potential costs of an accident. If you cause a fire, for example, you could be charged thousands of dollars for repairs. Having contents insurance can cover you for personal liability in a situation like that. Some policies on the market are called renters insurance, essentially, they work the same as a contents insurance policy, but are just specifically aimed at renters.
Usually you won’t be covered under your landlord’s insurance policy. They’ll have their own insurance for the rental property and whatever belongings they have in there.
I don’t own a lot, do I still need insurance?
While you might not think you own much worth insuring, costs add up if things get damaged or stolen. If you had to, could you afford to replace everything you own at once? It’s often things you don’t think about, too, like bedding, cutlery, appliances and towels. Contents insurance will also often cover things like temporary accommodation if the property you’re renting is damaged and you need to find somewhere else to stay.