One University of Auckland student is on a mission to ensure no student has to pay for an empty room. Through the platform EasyRent, he wants to help students take control of the rental market.
Toby Thomas-Smith first realised students had it rough in the rental market when he was moving out of first-year halls. He was eager to flat with friends while studying but didn’t want to be stuck in a 12-month lease. “If you want to go home for the summer, travel or take an internship in another city, you don’t want to pay for a room you’re not using.”
Thomas-Smith managed to find a 9-month lease, saving $3000 from not having to pay rent over the summer. Since then, he’s been determined to help other students do the same. “No student should have to lose that much money. $3000 could support you for the whole summer. It’s a really big problem that no one is addressing.”
To get student feedback, Thomas-Smith talked to students at the University of Auckland, including first years living at O’Rorke hall, about their future accommodation plans. He says 70% of the 1000 students he spoke to said they wanted to live in a house, not an apartment or student halls. “80% of students we talked to wanted a 9-month lease, but they just can’t access it.”
To get a 9-month lease, Thomas-Smith says student’s currently have the choice of halls or an apartment, but many students can’t afford $300 weekly rent. “That’s a lot of money, and for a student working 40 hours a week, this isn’t feasible.” This led him to start EasyRent, aiming to connect students with summer rental accommodation listed by other students in a 12-month lease.
He says universities don’t understand how difficult it is for students to compete in the rental market. “Students are at the bottom of the pecking order. It goes families, young professionals and then students. I feel we get treated quite badly, no one takes us seriously, and we get the scraps at the end.” He says the rental market in Auckland is not as bad as in Wellington, but that it is not far off.
After EasyRent’s initial launch, Thomas-Smith found that allowing students to sublet or rent a room was the best approach to solving this problem. This means students can use EasyRent even if their flatmates aren’t going away for the summer. While most rental agreements allow subletting, he says there is some opposition from landlords. EasyRent has been working to educate landlords about the benefits of subletting.
Thomas-Smith says he’s “committing 100% and going balls-deep” into his venture, taking time off study to focus on EasyRent full-time. “My grades at the end of last sem fell off a cliff. It’s definitely not sustainable for me to do it alone.” He is working alongside another University of Auckland student who is currently developing the EasyRent platform and hopes to bring on more team members soon.
EasyRent is currently using a Facebook group of early adopters to help students list and find summer accommodation, charging one weeks rent for users to sublet their room. He says their model is unique because it’s a student community. “Flatmates want other students living with them, that could potentially be a friend of a friend, not some random 40 year-old.”
Thomas-Smith says they want to offer a cheaper, more enjoyable process to finding flatmates. “We want to give them a bar voucher so they can go out and get to know each other, so it’s not just some random person living in their room.
Even if you’re not sure about what you’re doing this summer, Thomas-Smith says EasyRent is something you should look into. You can follow EasyRent on their website, social media or join their Facebook group to stay updated with future developments.
Illustration by Kiki Hall