The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has taken landlords to court using new powers from the changes made to rental laws last year. The changes mean that the government can take action against landlords breaching tenancy rules without requiring the tenants themselves to go to court.

People renting are often reluctant to complain about poor quality housing that is damp and unhealthy, unfair rents or other issues, because they fear eviction or simply do not want the word to get around that they are “difficult” tenants. MBIE has established a new Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team that has the power to take action on behalf of tenants and has now used that against a South Auckland landlord who was illegally renting out a garage. The there was no building consent for the garage where a family with a young child was living. The landlord had to refund more than $15,000 in rent as well as pay damages of $750.

Tenant advocate and Christchurch Tenants Protection Association manager Di Harwood said that this prosecution puts landlords “on notice” that they must keep to minimum standards and the rental laws. A Manurewa social worker Rene Moana Darlington told RadioNZ that sub-standard rentals are a fact of life for people and it is important the vulnerable people have a way to have their voices heard.

Hundreds of Complaints

Since the news laws came into force in July 2016, MBIE reports there have been 242 complaints, most of which were found to breach current rules, according to the media release from the Minister for Building and Construction Nick Smith. Most of the complaints have been dealt with through a compliance agreement with landlords (76 cases) or through providing advice to landlords about how to comply with the law. Only three cases have been taken to the Tenancy Tribunal although this involved landlords of a total of 199 properties.

Taking action as a renter

If you think the rental laws are not being followed and want to take action contact  the government’s Tenancy Services offices and they can advise you about how to make a complaint. There are Tenancy Services in all the main centres and appointments can be arranged in some regional centres as well. The Tenancy Services website offers a lot of useful information for those renting as well as for those who rent out properties.

Tenant Advocates Networking

As in many other parts of life, it seems that without the support of an advocate many people are not able to get a fair deal. NZCCSS is helping co-ordinate a national group of those who are involved in tenant advocacy work. While there are currently three organisations that focus solely on tenant support and advocacy – Tenants Protection Association Christchurch, Manawatu Tenants Union, and Tenants Protection Association Auckland, other national networks like Citizens Advice, Students Associations, Community Law, and NZCCSS’ own member social services are often involved in helping people with their rental situation. We would like to make contact with organisations and networks that are actively involved in supporting people who are renting, especially those on low incomes, in vulnerable situations in the community or renting in the private sector. The aim is to share information and build knowledge and skills in helping improve the experience of people renting.

Contact Paul Barber, 04 4732627 if you would like to be involved