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OUSA Student Support manager Dwaine Tait

OUSA Student Support manager Dwaine Tait says there’s no need for students to race into signing up for a flat and that they’re always welcome to come to the support hub with any questions or concerns.

Securing a flat is a hot topic among students right now but is the fear of missing out justified? Laura Hewson finds out.

Don’t panic! That’s the message OUSA Student Support manager Dwaine Tait has for students rushing to secure their flat for 2025.

“Every year we offer a series of ‘flatting talks’ to all of the colleges and one of our messages is to encourage students not to sign up for a flat too soon,” he says.

And there is a very good, very sensible and legally loaded reason for their message.

“The majority of the students sign a joint fixed-term tenancy agreement, so they’ll therefore be held jointly and severally liable for the property they’re renting and the terms and conditions of the contract they sign.

“We explain that it’s in the best interest of all to do their best to know who they’ll be signing with. In other words, if you sign with people you’ve just met in your college, it may turn out not to be a good fit. The more time you get to know each other the less likely you’ll have issues in the flat.”

“I feel that hearing about everyone else who’ve signed puts the pressure on more, and it really feels like everyone else is sorted for next year – even if that isn’t the case." – Hannah Jones

First-year student Hannah Jones says the stress of finding a flat has been a hot topic at UniCol, and her friends at other colleges are experiencing the same thing.

“There’s a sense of urgency to get flatmates and a flat sorted as soon as possible. The college put out a message saying that they won’t be giving out recommendation letters till semester two, which I suppose means they had a large number of people asking for them.

“I feel that hearing about everyone else who’ve signed puts the pressure on more, and it really feels like everyone else is sorted for next year – even if that isn’t the case. The general advice going around among students is that you need to sign early otherwise you’ll end up without one.”

Hannah – who’s in her first year of a Bachelor of Science majoring in microbiology – plans to go flatting next year but thinks rushing in isn’t a good idea.

“I’m personally not too worried about signing for a flat too quickly as I know that they’re available all year round. I’m more concerned about finding flatmates.

“I do know people who’ve already signed. They’ve generally had good experiences, but I heard of a group who signed particularly early in the year and had a falling out with one of the girls and ended up stuck.”

Hannah’s plan is to wait till next semester before deciding on a group to flat with, then to start looking for the flat.

“I am a bit concerned I’ll end up in a stereotypical damp, cold Dunedin flat and I’m also concerned about the price of rent, which is another reason why people believe they have to sign early. From the people who’ve signed already, I’ve noticed that they all brag how low their rent is.”

The talk OUSA Student Support gave in her college was useful, she says.

“They gave tips on what to look for when flat hunting and reassured me that if I do wait till next semester, I’ll get equal opportunity to get a good flat as those who decided to sign early.

“I also know I can come to them with my tenancy agreement to look over before I sign, which I almost definitely will do.”

OUSA Student Support staff

The OUSA Student Support staff come from a variety of backgrounds and are there to help with everything from flatting to financial hardship, wellbeing to LGBTTQIA+ support.

Dwaine says flatting in Dunedin can sometimes be precarious to navigate, especially for students doing it for the first time.

“They’re not always aware of their tenancy rights and can find themselves in any number of situations ranging from repair issues, healthy home standard violations, landlord/property manager relationship breakdowns, rental arrear issues, flatmate relationship issues, utility problems, contract concerns, general tenancy right violations and the list goes on.

“We generally offer guidance around tenancy rights, mediations, contractual guidance, flatting best practices, guidance for tenancy tribunal and financial support options. Navigating flatting can be overwhelming for students and we provide support for any issue that may arise.”

In recent years there have also been situations related to flat initiations. The group dynamics surrounding events like initiations are complex and involve a significant amount of pressure to any student who may be present to participate, Dwaine says.

“I just want to be clear that we don’t condone any situation where any student is placed in a vulnerable position that would potentially cause undue harm or suffering. Having said that, we will always extend our support to all students regardless of any situation they have found themselves in. We are neither judge nor jury and simply offer up supports to all students regardless of how they may have landed in a given situation.

“We’re often creating opportunities of engagement with students to better educate them around some of these more sensitive situations, in hopes they’ll avoid them completely. We try to empower students to make more informed and mindful decisions when it comes to managing peer pressure and these group dynamics.”

Finally, once you’ve found your people and your place, the OUSA Student Support Hub website is a treasure trove of top tips for creating a harmonious home, featuring advice on how to be a good flatmate, how to deal with not-so-good flatmates, how to save money on food and heating, and how to be a sustainable flat.

*Find more information on flatting and what else the OUSA Student Support Hub offers

When, what, how…? Wise words from OUSA

When to look…

  • Some landlords may ask you to decide to sign on for the following year or start advertising early. However, tenants have between 28-90 days from the end of the fixed term to confirm their intentions for the following tenancy. Check your contract.
  • There are a lot of flats out there, so don’t sign up to the first dark hovel you view. Starting to flat hunt around August will be just fine. Shop around and find a flat that meets your needs.
  • Keep in mind the people you’re signing with. While living with your friends from first year might seem like a great idea now, relationships can change and removing a flatmate after they sign on is difficult.

What to look for…

  • Is it warm? If not, then why not?
  • Are the windows double glazed?
  • Is it dry?
  • Is there any mould anywhere?
  • What’s the water pressure like?
  • Is it noisy?
  • Are the rooms all the same layout/size? Would you stagger the rent because of this?
  • Is there enough storage space?
  • Is there nearby parking if you’ve got a car?
  • Does it come furnished (even partially)?
  • Any leaks?
  • Have you checked out your potential property manager/landlord?

How to make it work…

Student Support recommends that flatmates create a Flatting Agreement setting out how you’re going to live together and what your responsibilities are. The agreement can cover things like how bedrooms are allocated, how flat accounts and bills will be handled, how cooking and cleaning will be shared and the conditions around friends and partners staying over.
OUSA Student Support can provide full flatting agreements, which they will happily work through with you.

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