Renters group wants stricter controls on landlords

Drive 11/07/2018

Renters United has released a detailed plan of how to "fix renting" in New Zealand.

The organisation is proposing 36 specific legislative changes to existing laws, laid out in what's called 'The Plan to Fix Renting'.

It says the country is facing a "once-in-a-decade opportunity" to fix rental laws, which it describes as "broken".

"Renters can have our homes taken away for any reason - or no reason," Renters United says.

"Meanwhile, the few rights we do have are poorly enforced through a system that renters themselves pay for."

The plan revolves around four key areas: 'stable homes', 'fair rent', 'safe and healthy homes' and 'meaningful enforcement'.

There are nine steps in the 'stable homes' section, including introducing legislation to classify rental properties as homes in order to "recognise the role the home plays in wellbeing", and minimise disruptions to renters' lives.

As part of "making the house their home", it says tenants should be allowed to keep pets and make minor changes to the property, such as hanging pictures and repainting.

Renters United is also calling for abolishing no-cause evictions, limiting the reasons landlords can end tenancies to factors within renters' power and reducing the frequency of inspections to every six months after tenants have spent a year in the property.

The 'fair rent' plan focuses on creating restrictions around rent increases, limiting them to once a year and not allowing them to be higher than inflation based on the Consumer Price Index of the previous 12 months - except where "significant improvements" are made to properties.

Renters United is also calling for the creation of a National Housing Strategy that would tax property speculation and increase public housing.

'Safe and healthy homes' includes raising quality standards of all rental properties to those set by the He Kainga Oranga Rental Warrant of Fitness and creating minimum standards for amenities, including laundry and kitchen facilities.

It also calls for the creation of a Rental Housing Quality Grade system for properties, similar to the current food hygiene grades given to restaurants.

Tenants should also be allowed to add safety modifications such as accessibility ramps to their properties, says the organisation.

Finally, Renters United has devised a 12-step plan for 'meaningful enforcement' of rental property disputes, saying the current system requires renters invest "endless time and energy" into getting problems sorted.

"When we do stick up for ourselves, we risk damaging our relationship with our landlord, our chance of finding another rental and our own wellbeing."

The organisation is calling for major changes to the Tenancy Tribunal; funding it so it can adapt an investigative model, and preserving the anonymity of tenants in their rulings so others aren't deterred from speaking out.

'Meaningful enforcement' also includes funding renter-led advocacy groups, increasing sanctions for law-breaking landlords and requiring all property managers to be licensed.

When it comes to funding this proposed enforcement plan, Renters United says the money from abandoned bonds - currently $9.8 million - must be reinvested into services that address the "inherent power imbalance" between tenants and landlords.

'The Plan to Fix Renting' already has support from the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA). President Marlon Drake says students are particularly vulnerable under current rental laws, and that VUWSA has campaigned for a similar concept to the proposed Rental Housing Quality Grade system.

"The idea that everyone should have a 'shitty student flat' experience is outdated and putting people's health and wellbeing at risk," Mr Drake says.

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