21 Sep 2018

Some tenants might not be eligible for HNZ meth-eviction compensation

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 21 September 2018

Housing New Zealand says people who rented their state houses through third party agents, and were kicked out over the results of methamphetamine tests, might not be eligible for compensation. 

The Crown agent announced yesterday it would compensate tenants for household items they disposed of and moving costs, and cancel all methamphetamine-related debt. 

But CEO Andrew McKenzie told Checkpoint today while some people lived in HNZ homes, they weren't HNZ tenants as the houses were leased by third-party agents, including community groups. 

Mr McKenzie says these tenants' claims for compensation will be treated on a case-by-case basis, but they might not be eligible. 

He says Auckland couple Rima and Pauline Herbert are in this position. The Herberts' house was owned by HNZ, but Mr McKenzie said HNZ was not their landlord because Ruapotaka Marae Incorporated Society leased it from HNZ. 

The Herberts were evicted from their home in 2016 after positive meth results were found after HNZ commissioned and paid for testing. 

"As the building owner we may have tested for them but [Ruapotaka Marae Incorporated Society was] the organisation that made the decision that they needed to test the property based on that evidence. 

"We warned them about it and obviously given our scale as an organisation we were able to organise for that testing to occur. But the decision to what happened to Mr Herbert, the decision to ask him to leave the home, that was made by them given they were the landlord for Mr Herbert."

Checkpoint visited Ruapotaka Marae today, where management confirmed it did not request or pay for the meth testing to be done. 

Checkpoint understands Ruapotaka Marae recommends tenants for HNZ but is not the landlord, despite HNZ saying it is.  

Following Checkpoint's interview with Mr Herbert last night, HNZ called him this morning to tell him he was "top of the list" and had been assigned a case manager. HNZ followed this up with an email, saying it is considering his case for compensation and will be in touch in the next two weeks.

Mr Herbert, his wife and three grandchildren moved into a motel after they were evicted. They threw out $15,000 worth of belongings, including furniture and appliances, because the meth test report stated the contamination results were "likely to be representative of all similar surfaces/material types". 

"I got assistance from WINZ. They paid for the hotel, but obviously I have to pay that back, but there's costs like removing the furniture, now in the report it says the furniture is contaminated, we should get rid of it. There's a high cost to that, so who is responsible for that." 

So who was the Herbert's landlord? And who is responsible for compensating them?

The Ruapotaka Marae Incorporated Society said it's not them. Mr McKenzie said it's not Housing New Zealand.

Mr McKenzie said HNZ leases 3000 houses to community organisations.

"Those landlords are responsible for the behaviour of the tenants they choose to put into those homes, so there will be a number of other organisations that will be looking at this."

At this stage, it's unclear where this leaves the Herberts and others in their position, and whether they will be compensated at all.

Mr Herbert has a message for HNZ: "Get your act together, and carry out the duties that you're supposed to be doing."
Minister of Housing Phil Twyford would not comment today, saying it was an operational matter for HNZ.