5 Mar 2018

Council evicts tenant for 'no reason': 'They really want to kick me out'

9:06 am on 5 March 2018

A man with mental health problems is facing eviction by Wellington City Council using a law, which the Prime Minister has criticised as unfair to tenants.

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Nicol Cheung is now on the Housing New Zealand waiting list but has been told it is unlikely he will be housed soon. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Nicol Cheung, who has lived in the council bedsit in the Wellington suburb of Wilton for nearly six years, had been having regular property inspections in order to get onto a waiting list for a transfer.

While there had been problems with clutter in the past, he and his supporters said he had cleaned up his act.

However, a few weeks before his final inspection, the toilet - which had been previously repaired following earthquake damage - overflowed and flooded his flat.

He was forced to pile up his belongings in the kitchen in order to clean up.

While he was out that day, a council worker took a photograph of the mess through his backdoor.

One of Mr Cheung's support people, Sacha Green, said the council would not admit it, but it seemed the photo was being used as the pretext for his eviction.

"They indicated to his support worker that it didn't look good and he needed to get his flat in order for the final transfer inspection on 30 November.

"Nicol did that but they cancelled the final inspection and issued the termination of tenancy the day after."

Mr Cheung took his case to the Tenancy Tribunal, but it upheld the council's decision because under the law, City Housing did not have to give a reason to terminate a tenancy.

Mr Cheung and his support workers got a meeting with the council housing team on 23 February, hoping to resolve the impasse.

But he said council staff had already made their decision.

"I thought that maybe if I agreed to stay here forever and don't bother them about the transfer, they would give me the chance to stay there," said Mr Cheung.

"But unfortunately, they really want to kick me out, and they don't give me a reason."

Sacha Green said the council was ignoring its own social housing policy, which says it will treat tenants fairly and equally and involve them in decisions about their tenancy along with relevant community and government agencies.

The council claimed it was following its process on terminating a tenancy but when pressed on that, they admitted it was not written down.

"So in terms of transparency, there is a complete lack of it and a complete inability to engage and challenge that."

The City Housing manager for Wellington City Council, Michelle Riwai, told RNZ it would be inappropriate for her to comment on an individual tenant's case in detail but she was "comfortable" with the council's actions in this case.

"We have years of experience working with really vulnerable clients over a number of years and their support agencies, and it can take years to reach a conclusion.

"I can confirm we've done everything we can in this case."

She declined to say whether the photo taken by the contractor was the deciding factor but said there were "health and safety issues".

Before coming to power, the Labour Party promised to abolish "no-cause" terminations of tenancies, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said would make renting a more stable and healthy experience.

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said a review of the Residential Tenancies Act this year would look at the conditions under which landlords can end tenancies, including the 90-day "without cause" provision.

He expects new legislation will be introduced to Parliament by the end of year.

But this will be too late for Nicol Cheung, who has to be out of his flat on 14 March.

He is on the Housing New Zealand waiting list but has been told it is unlikely he will be housed soon.

Mr Cheung said even if he could find a private rental, which were in very short supply, it was unlikely he could afford it.

City Housing said if Mr Cheung got a concrete offer of accommodation, it could be flexible about the 14 March deadline.

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