The image of Dunedin students willing to live in cold,
rundown and squalid hovels as long as they get a good deal -
reinforced by the 1999 film Scarfies - is one of the enduring
stereotypes of Dunedin students, but is it correct? Timothy
Brown visits ''studentville'' to find out what student
accommodation is like and why students choose to live where
and how they do.
Students rugged up in duvets and sleeping bags unwilling - or
unable - to light the fire or turn on the heater in the
late-19th century house that barely stands around them.
It is an image as synonymous with student life in Dunedin as
blue and gold harlequin jumpsuit-wearing scarfies on the
terraces at Carisbrook.
But, like Carisbrook, the walls are coming down; students are
expecting more and living standards are going up, Otago
University Students' Association president Ruby
''Last year, we did landlord and flat of the year and really
supported the landlords,'' Ms Sycamore-Smith said.
''It was really good to see the number of students who were
really proactive and passionate about the hard work that
their landlords are doing.''
While living standards may be improving, there is more work
to be done, she says.
''There are some landlords that are excellent, but at the
same time there are landlords that don't care.''
Students should ensure their flat ''is up to a suitable
living standard'' before they sign up and move in, she says.
However, third-year University of Otago students Eilish
Weterman (19), Rebecca Jackson (20) and Paige Searing (20)
are typical of those who are choosing affordability over
Their flat in Harrow St is not ''flash'' and is ''a little
bit darker'' than they had hoped for but is, in their own
words, comfortable and an improvement on the flat they lived
in last year.
''We wanted something that's warm and decent,'' Miss Weterman
Their flat last year was draughty and had mould problems,
issues that are not uncommon for student flats but that
students are becoming more careful because of the cost of
They each pay $110 a week and their current flat is value for
money, they say.
''Last year, we were paying $125 and it wasn't as good as
this,'' Miss Jackson said.
Location was also important to them and they were not alone
in that regard.
For second-year students Andrew Lindsay (19) and Joe Larson
(18), location was the main factor in selecting their flat in
The roughcast house was far from glamorous but ''for flat
standards, it's pretty good'', Mr Lindsay said.
''There's definitely worse-condition flats that people pay
more for per week than us,'' Mr Larson said.
The pair and their three flatmates pay $115 each a week,
which allowed them to live the lifestyle they desired in a
location close to campus and town.
They did not want anything more upscale, as ''it's going to
get messy at times'', Mr Larson admitted.
The women in Harrow St echoed their thoughts.
''We don't want flash, just in case anything does happen,''
Miss Searing said.
However, all agreed you got what you paid for.
It was why fourth-year surveying student Jarred Lloyd (22)
chose a house that was ''pretty much falling to bits''.
''My ex paid $150 [a week] down on Harbour Tce and that was a
nice house and my girlfriend paid $115 over on Hyde St and
that was all right, it wasn't amazing, but this is what you
get for 70 bucks,'' Mr Lloyd said, gesturing at his
The house in Vire St was dark, damp and cold with only
''heaters and blankets'' for comfort, but it was worth paying
less to be able to save money, he said.
''It's getting a little bit too expensive now [to flat in
Dunedin] because we are only getting about $170 a week,'' he
''A decent flat costs about $110-$115 and you have got bills
on top of that and after you buy food, you don't have much
money to do much else.''
All the students signed up for their flats well before the
end of last year. That was necessary because flats,
especially good ones, got ''snapped up pretty quickly'', Mr
It was a practice Ms Sycamore-Smith discouraged.
''Students don't have to lock in these flats they aren't
comfortable living in because there's good landlords ... in
Dunedin with a house for them to live in,'' she said.
She encouraged students to shop around and not agree to terms
they were not happy about.
Dunedin Mayor and student landlord Dave Cull agreed students
should not sign up to living through a ''grungy year''.
''In some years, I have seen really good top-quality flats
sit empty two blocks across from campus, so the choice is
there,'' he said.
He was heartened to see ''the standard of student
accommodation has risen remarkably'' in recent years.
''There's some extremely good standard accommodation.
''Some second-year students come out of hostels and there's a
certain cohort of them that want to be in Castle St. Some of
them want to go through a grungy year and the landlords know
those flats will be snapped up no matter the state they are
It was one of the reasons the Dunedin City Council was
trialling a ''housing warrant of fitness'' scheme.
The results of the trial would be available in March and
might have implications for all renters in Dunedin.
''There needs to be minimum standards for rental housing
across the board,'' Mr Cull said.
Ms Sycamore-Smith said she would also like to see minimum
standards, as OUSA was still hearing ''some real horror
If landlords kept their end of the bargain and provided
adequate housing, student behaviour would follow.
''If you have got a good learning environment and a beautiful
environment that you respect, then obviously students are
going to be proactive about [maintaining] that,'' she said.
Otago Property Investors Association president Wendy Bowman
said older properties presented a dilemma for landlords.
''Often the best solution is to demolish and rebuild, because
it costs a lot of money to bring these buildings up to code
Subsidies were available to landlords affiliated with the
association and improving the standard of the house could be
the difference between it being rented or sitting idle.
She agreed with Ms Sycamore-Smith that the treatment of the
property was linked to its maintenance.
''Any good property will be treated well,'' she said.
''If it's a rundown property people generally aren't as nice
in their treatment of [it].
''It's imperative that landlords ... put some money into
their property, then it's up to them to choose the right
Ms Sycamore-Smith conceded it was not an easy task, but OUSA
wanted to work with landlords to improve living standards and
student behaviour to create a desirable outcome for all