Boarding houses may help to keep people from living rough
on Dunedin's streets but also present challenges in the
community. Shawn McAvinue investigates.
The Landlord: Ted Ottrey
Landlord Ted Ottrey owns several boarding houses in Dunedin.
He has been renovating two of his Maitland St boarding houses
for the past year.
The renovations include replacing weatherboards, adding
insulation, painting and building storage in the rooms.
The work would ensure an occupancy rate of more than 90%, he
''We'll get a better class of clientele, fewer vacancies and
fewer problems. Everyone should be happy.''
In the past, tenants included recently released prisoners and
mental health patients, but he was tired of police visiting
and tenants destroying property.
More women were living in the renovated houses but the
tenants were mainly older male beneficiaries.
''I try not to keep young guys. They tend to be trouble. They
party too much. As soon as you get above 30, they tend to
have a little bit more respect.''
The rent per room in the seven-bedroom house, with two
bathrooms and a kitchen, was about $150 a week, depending on
''It's supply and demand. If you charge too much for your
rooms, people won't come. It is reasonably simple.''
To take a room, a person needed a week's bond and a week's
rent. Anyone who continually missed a rent payment was
''If they keep missing it, I can't afford to have them
Trouble-making tenants struggled to get a room in a Dunedin
boarding house, he said.
''In the past, a few landlords would have taken them, but
everyone's just getting sick of the real troublemakers ...
''They end up disrupting the other tenants, owing you money
and are just really painful to work with, so there's no point
Trouble still visited the boarding houses and recently he was
called when a disturbance involving a drunk tenant with
mental health problems attracted several police officers.
Mr Ottrey moved the tenant to his larger, more tired,
boarding house with 23 rooms, four bathrooms and three
kitchens, where the selection criteria for tenants were more
He gets another chance up there.
''If he can look after himself for a while, I'll see about
putting him back.''
When he bought the Maitland St house 10 years ago, it was
full of rats and Mongrel Mob members.
''You end up buying these [houses] cheap because no-one else
Some landlords bought and tenanted boarding houses and did
not maintain them, waiting for capital growth before selling,
Mr Ottrey said.
Money could be made from boarding houses, but few would want
the work, he said.
''Not many people could do what we do, dealing with the type
of people we deal with.
''It would drive them nuts.''
He had ways to control tenants' behaviour, he said.
In his bigger boarding house, he provided a TV in the room
for $5 a week, and for another $5 it came with Sky TV.
''I'm trying to use it to manage my tenants a bit better.
''If they cause me problems then I'll take the Sky off
If tenants stayed for two years, they owned the TV, but many
left before two years and stole the television, he laughed.
The tenant: Dylan
Invalid beneficiary Dylan (20) moved into Alva House about a
year ago when his relationship with his fiancee broke down.
The couple had rented a two-bedroom dwelling in Dunedin for
$170 a week, but when the couple separated, he moved into the
30-room Alva St boarding house with shared facilities.
''After the break-up, I was really struggling for money.''
Dylan is autistic and with help from Pact support staff he
moved into a room which cost $160 a week, including power.
''For what you pay, it's really not worth it.''
In the house, a hand-written sign on a room door reads, ''If
you are going to ask for a cigarette, or anything else, then
Dylan said being ''harsh and abrupt'' was the best way to
talk to tenants wanting handouts.
''If you give something to someone they'll come back.''
He stayed in his room and kept to himself to avoid trouble.
He wanted to move out and was doing work experience at a
computer store six days a week, hoping it would become paid
''I don't want to be here any longer.
''My support worker is helping me find a better alternative,
another boarding house, until I can get myself a proper job,
with more income, and I can afford my own space.''
The manager: Win
Alva House manager Win said she had been a tenant at the
boarding house for six months before she became the live-in
manager in 2002.
She reluctantly took the role because the manager she
succeeded left due to the relentless stress of the job.
When she first entered the house, tenants were abusive,
aggressive and threatening, she said. But when she became
manager - rather than fighting fire with fire and escalating
the tension - she explained to tenants why their behaviour
The tenants were mostly beneficiaries because the first
landlord would not allow tenants with mental health issues,
but the past two landlords had allowed anyone, she said.
The balance between being understanding and strict was a
constant struggle. She believed she was a good manager
because she did not fear tenants' threats and refrained from
getting involved in mind games with them.
Sometimes, she wondered if her payment, free rent, was worth
the stress, but she feared if she left, the house would
revert to its violent past.
If a manager had too much heart, it made them vulnerable and
the job became dangerous, she said.
Some tenants were still aggressive but she was different from
previous managers because she evicted troublemakers.
''I say 'pack your s*** or I'll call the cops'.''
A firm approach was necessary, but each tenant had to be
dealt with differently.
''Some you can yell at, others you can't - you don't even
She interviewed prospective tenants and the landlord allowed
her to refuse potential troublemakers.
On average, about half the rooms in the house were filled,
and the landlord wanted more tenants.
Each room had a bed, wardrobe, set of drawers, heater and
fridge. The rooms once had toasters which were removed after
some tenants used them to start fires.
She had seen inside three Dunedin boarding houses and Alva
House was as good as most, she said.
The community worker: Dave Brown
Dave Brown, who ran a Friday night
drop-in centre and was chairman of Dunedin Night Shelter,
said he had visited many substandard Dunedin boarding houses.
''I've turned up at some looking for people, and you can
smell urine and they [the landlords] charge quite a bit.
''Over the years, I've seen some pretty lousy boarding
Many tenants were incapable of looking after themselves and
were often messy and missed rent payments.
''It must be pretty hard on the landlords. Do you kick a guy
The landlords provided a housing service and the market set
the rent. If the boarding houses were closed, more people
would be living on the street, he said.
A frustrated neighbour wants a South Dunedin boarding house
demolished because she says it houses antisocial tenants.
The neighbour said the tenants of the house often changed and
included released prisoners and mental health patients, some
of whom had urinated in the street and intimidated
She would prefer the tenants lived elsewhere.
''But there's nowhere else for them to go.''
A resident of the boarding house was reluctant to talk to the
ODT, but he said he paid $165 a week to live in the
five-bedroom, one-kitchen, one-bathroom property.
He said the rent was expensive but finding accommodation was
In Clyde Hill, a neighbour of another boarding house said
tenants regularly knocked on his door asking for money for
The neighbour stopped giving money after a tenant spent $20
on tobacco and returned asking for food.
The policeman: Steve Aitken
The police were
visiting boarding houses less often than in the past, Senior
Sergeant Steve Aitken said.
Years ago, police visited Alva House every day, but now the
visits were more often for routine bail checks rather than
offending, he said.
As landlords had become more selective about tenants in the
past few years, police visits were unnecessary.
''We used to have a hell of a lot of trouble with [a city
address] and we don't get called there now.''
Many prospective tenants rejected by boarding house landlords
moved into central Dunedin flats, such as in Arthur and
Duncan Sts, and around Corstorphine, and were attracting more
police visits than boarding houses, Snr Sgt Aitken said.