29 Feb 2016

Bail requests to state houses 'blocked'

6:07 am on 29 February 2016

Housing New Zealand is standing in the way of poor people getting home detention or being bailed to state houses even when they have no other options, lawyers say.

Police and Corrections are also being criticised for alerting Housing New Zealand to bail applications when they would not do the same with private landlords.

State Housing in Upper Hutt

Lawyers say it is unfair if bail is refused to a state housing address (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A person is more likely to be locked up - whether they've just been charged or already convicted - if they cannot find an address to go to that is acceptable to the court.

Judges ask police and probation what they think about an address, and they in turn have been making a habit of asking Housing New Zealand what it thinks.

This, some lawyers told RNZ News, was not fair - and some were standing up to it.

Criminal lawyer Golriz Ghahraman heard about some pushback in the Auckland District Court last week.

"A lawyer was fighting back against this and saying in a private tenancy situation the occupier - who was in court, I understand - is able to say 'this is fine, I can have my uncle to stay', and that's what is happening here," she said.

"So why is this extra factor about the landlord, Housing New Zealand, even coming up?

"It's Housing New Zealand that decided to have a problem, but it's police and Corrections that are using this as a tool, another tool, to kind of make things difficult for less advantaged people."

In the case she heard about, the police told the magistrate Housing New Zealand had a problem with the tenant at the house where the accused wanted to go - and opposed regular bail to that address. A lawyer argued that was a separate matter, and got her client bail.

Such conflicts were rife in Auckland's courts, Ms Ghahraman said.

They were also common in Gisborne, according to Law Society district branch president Tiana Epati.

"My experience is that most of the time they will not consent," she said.

"Fifty percent of the time they give a reason like overcrowding, which is fair enough, but 50 percent of the time they won't give any reason at all. They'll just say they just don't consent."

generic arrest person in handcuffs

A case in Gisborne last year prompted a judge to say he would take an interest in Housing New Zealand's approach to electronic monitoring applications. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

A case was reported in the Gisborne courts last year where a judge said it appeared Housing New Zealand had a "blanket ban" on electronic monitoring applications and he intended to personally follow it up.

The judge declined to be interviewed.

Housing New Zealand issued a statement, saying it had no blanket ban on people serving bail or home detention at a state house, and considered requests on a case-by-case basis.

That did not wash with Criminal Bar Association chair Tony Bouchier.

"We do not have the authorities contacting private landlords, so this is peculiar to state housing, and often they are making a decision based purely on information from the prosecution.

"They don't have the entire picture."

Mr Bouchier said it also trampled on the rights of a state house tenant to have someone stay with them. They were allowed up to two boarders, and in the regular course of things Housing New Zealand did not get to vet those boarders.

Auckland community lawyer Vernon Tava asked why the state landlord was being given the option to reject a person seeking a bail address, adding it was especially hard on young men with poor family networks so few places to stay.

A tenants' advocate told RNZ News this approach was consistent with Housing New Zealand trying to reduce how many houses it let, in some cases so it could sell them.

Housing New Zealand did not have figures on the proportion of bail applications it rejected.

It said it was entirely appropriate for it to consider the impact of having extra adults living at any of its houses, and to make recommendations to the court about bail, particularly if it was outside an existing tenancy agreement.

Corrections said in a statement that public safety was its primary concern when assessing a bail address. The statement said nothing about its interactions with Housing New Zealand. RNZ News has asked for comment from police.

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