28 Aug 2018

Renting situation 'an absolute nightmare'

8:40 am on 28 August 2018

A renter who has had to move his family six times in two years is scathing about how the current rental market works for tenants.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has put forward a series of proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, which he says will finally make things easier for renters.

Mr Twyford said the lack of security of tenure for tenants was taking a toll on families.

Mr Twyford said renting used to be a short-term option, but house prices had been going up for years and property had increasingly become an investment commodity.

He said many tenants moved often - sometimes once or twice a year - and this could take a real toll on families, especially those with children who have to move schools.

Scrapping no-cause tenancy terminations, increasing the notice landlords have to give to end a tenancy, and limiting rent increases to once a year, have been included in the proposal.

Gavin - who has asked not to be named - emigrated to Auckland from South Africa two years ago with his wife and two young children.

But they have had unsuccessful tenancy after unsuccessful tenancy ever since and have lived in six different homes, including a week in a basement.

"It's an absolute nightmare. I wouldn't recommend it for anybody."

They were forced out of their last rental after the landlord gave them a 42 day notice - something they are legally allowed to do under certain circumstances - in this case it was needed for family.

However, a short time later, Gavin said new tenants moved in and when he challenged it the landlords claimed a death in the family meant it was no longer needed as a rental.

"If you complain about a property, if you've got issues with a property, the landlord will find a way to get rid of you because they don't want to fix the problems - it's just too easy to find another tenant."

He said they would be in the lurch once again when their current lease expires, after their landlord said 'no' to an extension and did not have to explain why.

"We're currently on periodic again - in the same situation with kids changing schools, with having to buy new uniforms, with all sorts of things every time."

The government has proposed a number of changes aimed at helping renters like Gavin have more security during tenure.

No-cause tenancy terminations would be scrapped, and the 42 day notice would be extended to 90 days.

It is also considering whether changes to fixed-term agreements were justified and limiting rent increases to once a year.

Sue Henry from the Housing Lobby said it was a small step forward that had been a long time coming.

"The whole ethos needs to change away from tenants being cash cows and slow moving targets to getting some rights. But they need to be meaningful changes."

But landlords say their rights also needed to be considered.

Phil was a landlord for 15 years, but sold up after bad experiences with tenants.

He had several tenants in Christchurch stop paying rent but, despite warnings, they continued to live in his property for months while it went through a lengthy tenancy tribunal process.

"When the money wasn't coming in, that made our week to week life tougher because we had to be paying the shortfall and mortgage. In my mind, we couldn't get the situation corrected soon enough."

He said while he's all for more security for renters, it was important any changes protected the ability of landlords to look after their properties.

"A landlord's rights are already limited in a way. I do understand people wanting to make a home and be part of a community but at the same time a lot of landlords have taken a lot of risk in buying a home so there still needs to be some rights on their side."

Real Estate Institute head Bindi Norwell said any changes need to respect landlords and strict measures may put them off investing.

"We're in desperate need for more rental properties, but at the same time we need to have the consumer protections in place obviously. It's really going to be finding that balance.

The changes will go to public consultation shortly, with the government wanting all changes in place by 2020.

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