Houses standing empty in city

Otago Property Management managing director Sonia Thom shows people what they can get for their money in a renter-friendly market. Photo by Dan Hutchinson.
Otago Property Management managing director Sonia Thom shows people what they can get for their money in a renter-friendly market. Photo by Dan Hutchinson.
Census figures show there are thousands of unoccupied flats and houses in Dunedin, particularly in older suburbs on the fringes of student areas. The Star reporters Tim Miller and Dan Hutchinson look at the increasing choice available to students and the impact on older properties.

Older houses are sitting empty in Dunedin as students and other renters favour newer developments.

Areas like Northeast Valley and City Rise have had a big increase in the number of ''unoccupied dwellings'' in the latest census, taken on March 5, 2013.

Overall, the number of unoccupied dwellings in Dunedin rose from 3612 in 2006 to 3915 in 2013. The total number of dwellings in Dunedin increased from 45,072 in 2006 to 46,590 this year.

Dunedin City Council senior planner Paul Freeland said the increase in unoccupied dwellings could show a change in rental practices, particularly in City Rise and North Dunedin.

''It may be that students and other renters are choosing better properties in different locations which has led to this trend, although we currently only have the census data to indicate this,'' Mr Freeland said.

Census general manager Sarah Minson said a house was visited three times before the census worker decided whether it was unoccupied or the occupier was just away.

Otago Property Investors Association president Wendy Bowman said many properties in Dunedin had become run down and owners could no longer afford to fix them.

''They can't afford to do them up so they sell them and it is good if they sell them because the new investors come in and they have to spend some money on them.''

Buying insurance had become a problem for owners of older properties, who were required to fix things such as wiring.

Ms Bowman said the amount of studio-style accommodation had reached its maximum level but there was still a need for student houses around the University of Otago and in North Dunedin.

Housing advocate Letisha Nicholas, of Generation Zero's Live the Dream project, said there were more flats than students but students were not always aware of that.

''That is actually really cool if they are choosing better-quality houses and not having to pay an extortionate amount for something that should just be the basic standard.''

Live The Dream aims to improve the quality of Dunedin's older student flats and uses a flat, previously voted the worst in Dunedin, as a model for how to do it.

She said campaigns run by the Otago University Students' Association, the council, Generation Zero and others to improve student housing might finally be having an impact.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand Otago spokeswoman Liz Nidd said there were more student properties than students.

She said students were becoming more discerning and favoured houses within 10 minutes' walk of the university that had heat pumps and dishwashers.


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