25 Jan 2022

Kāinga Ora cannot say how much compensation given in total to unruly tenants' neighbours

9:11 am on 25 January 2022

The government landlord cannot say how much it has been ordered to pay out in compensation to neighbours terrorised by unruly tenants.

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(File image) Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Kāinga Ora, formerly Housing New Zealand, came under the spotlight last year after it was revealed it had not evicted any tenants in the last three years.

This was despiteneighbours coming forward with stories of abuse and threats - and Tenancy Tribunal decisions that detailed compensation payouts in the thousands.

RNZ's Official Information Act (OIA) request - asking for the total amount of compensation paid out for breaches of section 45 (1) (e) of the Residential Tenancies Act in the past five years - has been declined.

"Kāinga Ora does not centrally record this information. As with many tenant-related matters, records are kept as a narrative rather than a financial transaction or ledger, meaning that each record needs to be read to ascertain the outcome," the response reads.

Litigation lawyer Adina Thorn, who has flagged a possible class action on behalf of affected Kāinga Ora neighbours, said the lack of centralised information about compensation payouts was surprising.

"Here we have a government body that presumably we know is paying out some money in these Tenancy Tribunal decisions yet says, even though it's been through litigation, it doesn't add that up in any centralised way.

"I haven't come across that before from a government department and it sounds like a long way away from what this government department and its board are supposed to be doing with taxpayer money."

While Kāinga Ora declined the OIA request on the basis it did not centrally record the information, its response does note "amounts awarded overall are small, commensurate with the Tribunal's findings of matters needing compensation".

National Party deputy leader and housing spokesperson Nicola Willis said the government housing agency could not have it both ways.

"Either they know, in which case they should front up and be transparent with taxpayers about how much they've spent, or they don't know and they're in no position to make those assurances.

"Either way, it's disappointing. I would suggest Kāinga Ora be honest, up front and accountable on this issue."

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National Party deputy leader and housing spokesperson Nicola Willis says Kāinga Ora needs to be transparent. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Kāinga Ora pointed RNZ to the Ministry of Justice website to sift through the Tenancy Tribunal records itself.

Decisions RNZ has seen show $12,000 in compensation costs have been paid out in the past two years but that was as far back as online records went.

One neighbour, RNZ has agreed not to name, said the cost of living next to unruly tenants was far more than just compensation payouts.

"The effect is just terrible. It was really hard on our marriage because my husband was at work and I was at home. I became personally incredibly hyper-vigilant.

"Like it's just listening, watching and waiting... You become prisoners in your own home."

Adina Thorn said the issue was so widespread and serious that it warranted an independent inquiry.

"I think the victims across New Zealand would be happy with that and the other thing I'd say is that I've not had one person reach out to me since this arose saying they disagree with this.

"The general public of New Zealand is reaching out to me saying they are disgusted with Kāinga Ora and they are disgusted with how these people are being treated."

The government maintained it had a 'sustaining tenancies' policy, rather than a 'no evictions' one, though last year associate minister of housing Poto Williams said this could be reviewed.

Approached about Kāinga Ora not centrally recording its compensation payouts, Williams said she had been advised the agency had created a new 'Payment to Customers Policy' that would help record this information in the future.

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