Subletter issues stark warning after head tenants cheat her out of thousands of dollars

An Auckland renter has pledged to never sublet again after a nightmare experience forced her out of her flat.

The power dynamic between landlords and renters has long been in the spotlight with horror stories from shady landlords to nightmare tenants.

But while there is a known power imbalance in the relationship between landlords and renters, it also extends to head tenants. 

People in Australia were outraged earlier this year after a head tenant admitted they were tricking their flatmates into unknowingly paying their rent.

A head tenant is named on the tenancy agreement and is responsible for connecting with the landlord or property manager and finding new flatmates when someone moves out.

Subleasing, also known as subletting, means renting a property to a new tenant and is done with a different contract than the original tenant/landlord contract, sometimes meaning the subletters won't know the total rent being paid.

In this case, instead of splitting the rent evenly, the head tenant was dividing it by four - leaving the housemates to unknowingly foot their bill.

It sparked internet debate with many others sharing their experiences with subletting - including across the ditch in New Zealand.

One woman living in Auckland, who wants to remain anonymous, said she learnt a hard lesson when it came to subletting.

The woman told Newshub she moved from Dunedin to Auckland and found a flat through social media with three other young women who seemed to share similar morals as her. 

After living in the flat for four months she received a "scary" message while on holiday in Dunedin.

Two of the women were on the tenancy agreement while the woman and one other were subletting.

The message from one of the head tenants said they had an intense visit from a real estate agent who was showing people around the house as the landlord had received a time-sensitive offer. She said after a lot of back and forth, she and the other head tenant have agreed to end their one-year fixed tenancy agreement early as they don't want to butt heads with the landlord.

"It was quite a scary message to receive. I thought, 'What the hell, this doesn't make sense'," the woman said.

"I know these girls are young but being harassed by a property manager is not enough of a reason to completely uproot your whole life and move out of a flat you just moved into four months prior."

However, when she returned home she discovered from the other subletter the two head tenants had accepted a $20,000 payout to break the lease and were going to share it between them. 

They had also offered the other flatmate a couple thousand dollars in order to not tell the arrangement they had made.

"She felt terrible and explained to me what they had done," the woman said.

She confronted the two flatmates and said they came up with excuses why they deserved the money and the others didn't

"It was just ugly and gross. After a few days of it being really tense, I reached out to make amends and I said, 'I can't be bothered living with you for another three weeks with these bad vibes, let's just be civil and I'll cut my losses and get out'," she said.

The woman said she learnt her lesson, insisting to be signed on to the lease at her new flat.

"I realised in subletting that I basically have no rights as a tenant if my name is not on that piece of paper. The extent to which I could be screwed over by people who do have the right to the tenant was far more extreme than I could ever imagine. I definitely would never, never sublet again."

Renters United says: "It's a symptom of a fundamentally broken housing system that enables and incentivises exploitation across all of its levels."
Renters United says: "It's a symptom of a fundamentally broken housing system that enables and incentivises exploitation across all of its levels." Photo credit: Getty Images

Advocacy group Renters United told Newshub they are disappointed to hear of conflicts between head tenants and subletters.

"It's a symptom of a fundamentally broken housing system that enables and incentivises exploitation across all of its levels," national organiser Éimhín O'Shea said. 

"We need significant reform across the housing system, if we existed in a fair and just 'fit for purpose' system this form of exploitation would simply not be possible. We strongly encourage renters to operate transparently and with mutual solidarity, and while this is not always the case, we're confident across renting in Aotearoa this is the status quo."

Renters United encourages those entering into any tenancy agreements to take the time to ensure they are fully aware of all parties' rights and obligations throughout all stages of the tenancy.  

"Your rights as a renter are derived from these agreements and as such it's crucial that you are included in any necessary paperwork," O'Shea said.

O'Shea said while head tenants may in some cases have an unfair power over the other advantages, the biggest problem facing renters is not other renters.

"Focussing on this power dynamic is a distraction from the far more widespread and severe power imbalance that exists between all renters and their landlords/property managers. 

"For a run-down of these rights one can head to, the Tenancy Services website, or the Tenancy & Housing Manual created by Community Law. To get advice and access advocacy across the motu one can head to for a region by region list of services that may be available to someone who is in this situation or suspects that they may be."