All I want for Christmas is a landlord register - Rental News |

All I want for Christmas is a landlord register

PHOTO: Image: Archi Bana

While tenants must jump through hoops to prove they’re worth renting to, it’s near impossible to know whether a prospective landlord is actually a slumlord, or worse. This festive season, Ollie Neas is wishing for the gift of change.

It was a classic Kiwi Christmas.

Pōhutukawa flowers littered the pavement like confetti. Sausages sizzled on barbecues as sunscreen was slipped and slopped. Carols filled the air. Property investors across the land were resting up after a hard year of owning things.

The year was 2020 and I was feeling blessed. Records were being smashed everywhere – house prices, rents, public housing waitlists – but I had a flat and the bedroom wall didn’t leak when it rained. Luxury. I gave thanks to the gods, especially my landlord Dave*. The moment I shook Dave’s soft hand I knew I was dealing with the best.

But something was eating away at me. It had been six months since I’d moved in and six months since my flatmate and I had transferred Dave our bond. But no bond had been lodged with Tenancy Services. Our money – thousands of dollars of it – sat in Dave’s bank account unlawfully, being used for who knows what. Email after email about the issue went unanswered. Clouds were gathering in the classic Kiwi summer sky.

Cautiously, we entered our landlord’s name in the Tenancy Tribunal database. My heart sank. It seemed Dave was no stranger to the tribunal – on multiple occasions he had failed to lodge tenants’ bonds. One tribunal decision noted a pattern of behaviour. We emailed Dave again, this time deploying the magic words: “Tenancy Tribunal”. Suddenly he was responsive, offering up apologies and explanations like unannounced flat inspections.

My landlord knew almost everything about me – my age, what I did for work, my residency status, whether I smoked, my credit history and criminal record. But I knew almost nothing about him beyond his first and last name. As my date with the tribunal approached, I wanted to know: who really was I renting from?

For rent sign outside a home
How much do you know about the person you’re renting from? (Photo: Getty Images)

The Tenancy Tribunal decisions I’d found suggested Dave had a habit of holding property through companies and trusts. A search of the companies register confirmed this: Dave owned or was director of a long list of companies, many of which appeared to be vehicles for owning property. Technically, my landlord was one of these companies, not Dave.

But this was where my search ended. How many properties did Dave own through each company? How many property-owning trusts was Dave tied to? Just how much of the city rented from this guy? How much bond money had he swindled? There was no way to know.

The problem is this: there’s no central database of who owns New Zealand’s property. There’s no way to be sure just how many properties a landlord owns and no way to assess their track record as a landlord.

It’s easy enough to find out who owns a particular property – just drop $5 on a LINZ land record search. But you can’t enter a person’s name and see how many properties they own. The only way around this is to extract the entire LINZ database of 1.7 million property titles and match those up with records of the nearly 700,000 registered companies. That’s technically possible if you have the time, money and technical expertise, which most people, including myself, don’t.

And even if you did all that, you still wouldn’t get a complete picture. Ten percent of New Zealand properties are owned by large companies whose shareholders aren’t listed in the Companies Office data. There’s also no register of trusts, so there’s no way for the public to know who’s in charge of a trust, who its beneficiaries are, or how much it earns. All we know is that the number of homes held by trusts is growing. Stuff reports that the number of trust-owned homes has jumped by 48% since 2015.