Uni Flats residents have complained of unannounced visits from landlords and Property Services.
Uni Flats is the University of Otago’s housing service for international students, where a local ‘Kiwi Host’ lives with a group of international students. Its goal is to “ensure international students have a quality place to live that is close to campus” and have a “flatmate whose local knowledge can provide support” said University of Otago Campus Development Division Director James Lindsay (also known as James “I have a very long title” Lindsay).
Under the Residential Tenancies Act, tenants must be given 24 hours notice before contractors or property managers enter a property to carry out repairs or maintenance.
But, Uni Flats residents “are not defined as tenants by law [which is] stated in their contracts,” so “24 hours notice [before] maintenance staff [come] on to the property” is not required, said James Lindsay.
“The students in all but four of the Uni Flats are residents in the same way students in the University’s colleges are residents, with wrap-around services including prompt attention to requests for maintenance work,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay said “every effort is made to advise [residents] if staff need to go to the Uni Flats for any other reason than responding to a request from a resident,” but several students told Critic they are uncomfortable about how little warning they receive before people come onto their properties.
One resident said Property Services contacted them “out of the blue” about a piece of furniture in the flat that they couldn’t have seen without visiting the flat without the resident’s knowledge.
A student who arrived at their Uni Flat early in the year said Property Services was “arrogant and condescending” when arranging maintenance work, telling residents, contractors are just “here to get the job done, so we aren’t going to notify you.”
Another student had found dealing with Property Services difficult. They “changed the time for doing maintenance literally three times, and it's annoying because we can’t be home [when we] have Uni. I mean I trust them, but I have my passport, my laptop, all my mess lying around in my room, and we never know if they are going to go in there.”
Lindsay did admit it is possible for flatmates to not be aware work has been done. “Maintenance staff pick up the key from the Uni Flats Office, go to the flat, knock on the door and wait for an answer. If no-one is home, they enter and do the work” said Lindsay. He said the work “mostly” occurs because a Uni Flat resident has asked for help.
Some Uni Flats are University-owned, and some are leased from private owners who still employ local property management companies. However, because Uni Flats residents are not ‘tenants’ under the Residential Tenancies Act, property managers contracted to the properties don’t have to abide by the rules of normal flats either.
One resident said their property manager has arrived unannounced at their property several times. “One time they popped their head through the window just to say ‘how’s the flat?’ It was weird and unsettling.” They also visited the flat five times in a fortnight with no notification to drop off kitchen equipment. “Small things kept changing every day, and it was scaring me because I was often alone in the flat.”
Another resident said communication between property managers, Property Services and Uni Flats residents is “a bit shocking”. Last year, a property management company organised a flat viewing for their property and told Uni Flats about it, but Uni Flats failed to pass on what time it would be to the residents. “Someone was in the shower and they came out and people were there.”
A Kiwi Host said, unscheduled visits might be fine if you’re an exchange student and just there for a semester and “don’t see the flat as your space,” but when you have daily concerns and a busy life and keep most of your stuff in the house it’s way more concerning. “I really love being a Kiwi Host, but the organisation [of Uni Flats] is a bit average.”