‘Why should I?’: Landlord didn’t raise rent for four years

He’s invested thousands in upgrades, but this Dunedin landlord didn’t raise his rent for four years.

Brent Knox​ says it’s because his philosophy is to “treat tenants the way I’d like to be treated”.

Knox owns four attached units in the suburb of North East Valley, and is on a first-name basis with his tenants. He likes it that way.

“If they’re happy, then they want to stay here, and I don’t have to find new tenants.”

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Each four-bedroom unit is rented out for between $330 and $360 a week. Most tenants pay $90 a room.

He had not raised the rent in four years, only breaking the trend this year to raise one flat to $360.

It was still $130 less than the low end of the local market, but Knox said “why should I?” when asked if he was tempted to raise it.

“It would just make it difficult for the tenants. These people are young and trying to find their way.”

Brent Knox didn't raise the rents at his flats for four years, and when he did, it was still $130 less than the low end of the market.

Sinead Gill/Stuff

Brent Knox didn’t raise the rents at his flats for four years, and when he did, it was still $130 less than the low end of the market.

He believed most landlords were good landlords, but because the Government tracked rental values through their tenancy services website, it created a feedback loop of increasing rental costs.

“It’s good to know where you sit, but the downside is it’s self-perpetuating … you see others are earning much more, you could think, ‘why shouldn’t I’?”

But Knox was happy with how things were. Rates, insurance and maintenance costs were about $15,000 a year. The retiree lived off the rest, and was now mortgage free.

Seb Spenceley, one of Knox’s tenants, enjoys an afternoon nap. Owner Emma Spenceley says pet-friendly rentals are a rare find.

Sinead Gill/Stuff

Seb Spenceley, one of Knox’s tenants, enjoys an afternoon nap. Owner Emma Spenceley says pet-friendly rentals are a rare find.

When the healthy home standards were introduced in 2019, Knox, like thousands of other property owners, had to get his rental properties to a certain standard of insulation, ventilation and heating requirements.

Like its neighbouring suburb Dalmore, many North East Valley properties saw little sun and were prone to damp.

Knox’s concrete properties were exempt from some insulation requirements. Condensation on the units’ large windows were an issue, and it made it harder to keep the homes warm and dry. He could have done nothing about it, and not be in breach of his obligations.

Instead, he paid for a forced air ventilation system, at just under $3000 per unit.

Knox says he understands other landlords might see their rent is cheaper than the average and then raise it, but it creates a cycle of increasing rents.

Sinead Gill/Stuff

Knox says he understands other landlords might see their rent is cheaper than the average and then raise it, but it creates a cycle of increasing rents.

“Condensation is part of normal living. People generate moisture. Opening the windows can overcome that but as a landlord I can’t insist on how people live.”

Because they were his properties, he said installing the system was “a no brainer” for peace of mind.

When he bought the fourth and final unit in 2019, the contrast between it and the ones he had owned for years was stark.

“It was being managed by a property manager, but, boy, did they do their client a disservice. They would have lost their client thousands. There was mould, leaks, water on the floor … it’d been like that for months.”

Rentals in Dunedin's student quarter, less than 10 minutes from Knox's properties. On the low end, people can expect to pay $130 per room.

Sinead Gill/Stuff

Rentals in Dunedin’s student quarter, less than 10 minutes from Knox’s properties. On the low end, people can expect to pay $130 per room.

He renovated the place, again without increasing the rent.

Georgia MacKenzie​ moved in when the renovations began, and had been there since.

“He re-carpeted and repainted the entire flat. He was supposed to raise the rent … then he decided not to because the work was a bit disruptive. He’s just nice.”

She said Knox’s reputation meant it felt there was a waitlist to get into one of his rooms, and tenants felt lucky to be there.

Spenceley is on her fifth year at the flat. Knox says long-term tenants make his life easier.

Sinead Gill/Stuff

Spenceley is on her fifth year at the flat. Knox says long-term tenants make his life easier.

Her previous flats were “trash, invasive, horrible at reply”. “They acted like they were superior to me.”

She said having an attentive landlord incentivised her to take better care of the property.

“There’s a mutual respect … he’ll go above and beyond. Like when one clothes line snapped, he just replaced all four of them.”

Emma Spenceley​ lived in a different unit and had been there for five years, originally as a first-year student, and now as a graduate on the job hunt.

Recently their hot water cylinder began to leak. A tradie was there the next day, and it was replaced a day later.

“I do feel lucky to be here. It’s why we’ve stayed here for so long.”

Next door, fourth-year resident Andy Randell​ recalled being offered a bond at half price because it was close to Christmas.

When the ventilation system got installed, “even the tradies said it was amazing he was doing this for us”, Randell said.

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