16 Aug 2022

Human Rights Commission says freeze on rent increases should return

8:40 pm on 16 August 2022

An immediate freeze on rent increases could provide a much needed break for renters, says the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

Housing in Mount Victoria, Wellington.

The Human Rights Commission is suggesting the government should re-instate a freeze on rent increases and immediately increase the accommodation supplement to aid low-income renters. (file image) Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

A housing inquiry, launched by the commission last year, found rents were rising faster than income and inflation.

A home is considered unaffordable for someone to rent if they need to spend more than 30 percent of their income to keep a roof over their heads.

Every dollar over this limit that is spent on rent means less for other essentials, such as healthy food and heating in winter.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the government implemented a temporary six-month freeze on rent increases to ease the pressure on renters.

The commission is suggesting the government should re-instate a freeze on rent increases and immediately increase the accommodation supplement to aid low-income renters.

HRC housing inquiry manager Vee Blackwood said more than half of renters were spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

"The overall cost should be no more than 30 percent of your income after tax being spent on your housing costs, but we know that almost half of renters do spend that or more and this is predominantly felt by those on the lowest incomes," Blackwood said.

ASB's most recent Financial Well-being research found 18-24 year olds were 34 percent more likely to experience payment problems than the national average.

Young people were spending more of their money on essential day-to-day living costs such as rent, food and transport compared with other age groups, the survey found.

Pensioner Sue Ajarma said she paid more than half of her income on rent alone.

"I think that a rent increase freeze is good," Ajarma said.

"More than half of my income is for rent alone and I'm on the benefit."

The proportion of people renting in Aotearoa is increasing, with a third of New Zealanders and half the adult population now renting homes.

The Green Party backs the commission's call for an immediate rent freeze.

Green party co-leader Marama Davidson

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says tenants are struggling to pay bills as rents continue to rise. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said for one in three people who rent, the cost of staying in their home was rising much faster than incomes.

"The Human Rights Commission is absolutely right. An immediate rent freeze followed by permanent and meaningful changes to the way we rent is essential for recognising the human right to a warm, affordable home," Davidson said.

"The shocking fact that this is the reality for nearly one in every two people who rent. These people are struggling to pay the bills as rents continue to rise. It should be enough of a reason for any government to act".

Previously commenting on an advocacy group's call to limit rent increases, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government anticipated rent increases once the temporary freeze ended in 2020, which was why the Residential Tenancies Act was updated under urgency to limit rental increases to once every 12 months.

She said the government made the changes, which included a ban on rental bidding and 90-day no-cause terminations, with tenants in mind.

"If they do see an increase, that will be the only increase over their tenancy that can happen in a 12-month period, and I think that's really important."

Later this month, the commission will launch the next stages of its housing inquiry.

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