Our rental system was broke long before the quakes...............

Manager Helen Gatonyi

Our rental system was broke long before the quakes...
By Helen Gatonyi - Manager Christchurch Tenant's Protection Association

Our rental system in New Zealand was flawed long before the Canterbury earthquakes.

It was the quakes cycle that threw all these flaws up into bold relief and into the headlines.

The tragic truth for TPA is that we could serve up hundreds of stories of people facing homelessness if headlines were our main aim in life.
They are not.

We exist to provide guidance and solutions to rental housing issues.

It's why at our recent annual general meeting I gave our Chair a long list of “thanks” to make, these deserve repeating for their sheer apparent contrarian nature.

First up the Christchurch City Council and Housing New Zealand.

Both often feature as the villains in rental problem stories, both deserve a more measured public image as their consistent support and good relations with TPA attest.

With both organisations our focus is on solving problems and housing often very difficult clients.

The Council social housing staff did an exceptional job trying to keep council housing tenants housed while stock was shut down and the former Council often dithered about solutions.

Housing New Zealand and TPA have a system set up where they refer their complex tenancies to us to try and help the tenant's solve the problems that sometimes mean they just stop paying rent.

Far from the heartless Dickensian throwing out on the street they work hard with us and the tenants to try and stop getting to that point.

We also thanked the many Christchurch property investors who come to us first to try and solve emergent tenancy problems and specifically Pat Bowden of Harcourt’s who helps find solutions, not problems.

TPA has had property investors on our board at times.

We are non-political but I also had to acknowledge at the AGM the fact that Housing Minister, Nick Smith the day after he was sworn in this year sat down for a “full and frank” talk with TPA about the Christchurch rental market.

The Christchurch rental market disaster is not just a nice simple tale of heroes and villains, although both can be found.

It is a classic supply and demand crisis that as I said at the start has highlighted the many flaws in New Zealand rental law as it stands.

Our problems are systemic, historic and need legislative solutions not just a steady diet of headline grabbing tales of injustice.

TPA is long established and one of our core values is to not exploit our clients for publicity unless they are able to withstand that pressure and if all other methods have been genuinely tried.

So what's broke and how can we fix it?
At TPA we have been advocating for a warrant of fitness for rentals in keeping with international best practice for years.

Through successive Governments of all political hues we have pushed for the idea to be adopted.

Finally this year this Government has agreed to start trialling the idea with HNZ properties.

Given we realised recently we could have had a 21st birthday party for the warrant idea if it was a person we hope this catches on!

Next the problem we have that the laws providing security of tenure are poor to non-existent.

At our AGM we also touched on the case of the frail 80 year old who had recently been told as her rent rose from the original $160 per week a few years ago to $340 that she could “like it, or lump it”. Like any other long term tenants she is well aware that if she crosses the landlord a 90 day notice to quit may be on its way.

It is a complete disincentive to try and get things fixed or in fact stand up for your rights.

Thirdly, there is the implication in this mix of legislative defects that rental tenants are somehow second class citizens.
The reality is that internationally in many countries renting is the ‘norm’. It may become the case here as housing affordability continues to perplex Governments and planners.

As many middle class people plunged into the rental market by the quakes have found their rights are slim and limited.

At TPA we would like to see a more long term legislative approach to renting adopted. We would like to see security of tenure for up to 7 years where families with children of school age are renting.

We want to see the warrant of fitness idea a reality and the security of tenure guaranteed.

If we took these steps nationally we would find many of the present set of problems would come under control.

Equally importantly I must stress we also need to get beyond prejudice and black and white thinking around tenancy issues.

Some landlords are useless, so are some tenants.
Most are not and it is their interests that must prevail. 

Contact Details

Tenants Protection Association (ChCh) Inc
Te Tōpū Tiaki-ā-Kainoho
Room 3, 301 Tuam Street, Christchurch 8011
Ph.(03) 379-2297

info [at] tpa [dot] org [dot] nz (subject: Enquiry%20from%20Website)