Greenstone TV describes it as "A compelling fly-on-the-wall look at the way the rental scene works in New Zealand", but Renters (TV2, Monday 8pm) is a dishonest and exploitative reality television series. It mostly portrays people who are renting in the worst possible light. Meanwhile, the many transgressions of landlords go unexamined.

OVER FORTY YEARS AGO Austin Mitchell wrote a book called The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise. It was a satirical but generally affectionate take on life in New Zealand in the 1960s - the New Zealand the way it was before the neoliberal monster swallowed the country.

Home ownership rates climbed steadily in the post-war era and the dream of owning a home, that little quarter acre of paradise, was a realistic one.

But things have changed and not for the better. Home ownership rates have fallen to levels not seen in more than sixty tears. The skyrocketing cost of homes, with the average price for an ordinary house in Auckland set to hit one million dollars, means more are more people are having to rent. And, unless there is a fundamental restructuring of the economy as well as the introduction of innovative housing policies, many folk will simply be unable to purchase their own homes.

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub has outlined the problem in his book Generation Rent. As he says: "That egalitarianism, everybody gets a fair go, everybody can get into home ownership - that's been broken for a long time."

Television could do some really good journalism investigating this crisis but, of course, these are the days when TVNZ prefers to have a right wing presenter host a show every weeknight in order that he can tell us just how great the government is.

Instead Greenstone TV have taken the opportunity to exploit this crisis to produce a show for TVNZ called Renters. Greenstone specialises in reality-based television shows. It is responsible for such gems as Highway Cops and Highway Patrol.

Now into its sixth series, Renters follows a bunch of property managers, who on behalf of their landlord clients, spend their days policing 'renters'.

Greenstone promotes the show this way:

"Join our favourite property managers as they deal with the shocking, funny, strange, unexpected and entertaining lives of their Renters. From Whangarei in the north to Dunedin in the south and everywhere in between, our property managers take us along the ride."

Sounds like fun, huh? Not really.

Three happy young renters.
In this week's episode a property manager was trying to evict a young woman who hadn't paid any rent for three months.

While the property manager, Pru Morrall, was portrayed as 'firm but fair - with added good natured humour' the female renter remained an anonymous figure. All we found out about her was that she hadn't paid her rent for some time and there was the suggestion that this wasn’t the first time she had deprived a hard-up landlord of cash. But we never actually got hear her side of the story. Just to underline the woman's potential criminality her face was blurred every time she was in camera shot. Morrall said that the woman was going on her 'blacklist'.

This charming incident was played out in Christchurch, a city which has seen landlords exploit the housing shortage by hiking up the rents - and often for substandard housing. The vampires have been sucking tenants dry. And I'm sure that they're lieutenants, the property managers, have prospered as well.

There was a story in the media just two days ago that reported the problems that some young 'renters', namely university students were having with landlords: 

"Mould, dampness, unfinished rooms and exorbitant rent are just some of the experiences students say have been part of their flatting experience."

The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) says that "we find the fear that students feel toward their housing situation is significant".

Do you think Greenstone might make a reality television show called Vampires, where "our favourite tenancy advocates deal with the shocking, funny, strange, unexpected and entertaining lives of landlords"? I somehow doubt it.


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