Our submission on the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill

February 17, 2016 10:50 am

Today Renters United made our oral submission to the Social Services Select Committee. Here are the key points we made and at the end is a copy of our full submission.

Oral submission speaking notes

Wellington Renters United is an organisation founded in 2014 to organise renters and campaign to make renting better for everyone in Wellington. The majority of our members are private renters in the Wellington region, we also have supporters around the country.

Wellington Renters United welcomes the Government’s attention to issues of quality in the private rental sector. The right to live in a safe and healthy home is one of our eight key demands. Poor quality housing is a key issue affecting our members. Our appendix contains some of their stories, which relate the effects of poor quality housing on health, social relationships, and education.

We believe that the proposed legislation could be improved in a number of ways. In this submission, we outline some of the problems and our proposed solutions.

Kayla will also tell her personal story of living in substandard housing, then we are happy to take questions.

Smoke alarms and insulation requirements

We have four comments on to make on the smoke alarm and insulation requirements.

First, the standard for insulation is set too low to address the problems of cold, damp and mould. We recommend that landlords be required to insulate to the current building code standard and that where it is structural impossible to insulate to this standards alternatives such as double glazing, thermal curtains and heating should be installed.

Second, we have personal experience of landlords evicting tenants under the guise of property improvements and going back to market. We submit that the proposed improvements should be subject to a requirement towards minimum disruption of tenants, either by doing them between tenancies or by phasing the work with minimum disruption and fair rent abatement.

Third, we note that the evidence is clear that the safety and heating-related elements tested under the Rental WOF pilot improve health outcomes and save money in the long run. We submit that requirements relating to these should be implemented.

Fourth, the tenant information model is a poor way to enforce these minima. A requirement on landlords to inform tenants whether they have met the standards fails to recognise the power imbalance. We support a “warrant of fitness” or “tax compliance” style model.

MBIE’s use of the Tenancy Tribunal

I would like to talk about the changes to the tenancy tribunal process. We support the new powers for the Chief Executive to investigate issues and take them to the tenancy tribunal. We have two additional comments to make.

First, there should be a clear process for tenants, councils, health bodies and NGOs can ask the Chief Executive to take action. The chief executive should be required to report on instances where he or she has investigated or taken a case to the tribunal.

Second, we are concerned that existing and proposed powers are not sufficient to prevent a wrongdoing landlord from exploiting tenants. We recommend that the Chief Executive be empowered to declare a landlord unfit and arrange any Tribunal ordered repairs, improvements and payment relocation costs then recoup these costs from the landlord.

Retaliatory notice

We support the increase of time available to tenants to assert that the termination of their tenancy was motivated by their attempt to assert a right or make a complaint. However the framework needs further strengthening.

We recommend that:

  • The Residential Tenancies Act be amended to institute greater security of tenure. These amendments should include longer and more secure leases, a first right of refusal at lease renewal time, and the removal of the 42-day notice period in some circumstances.
  • The anonymization of tenants names in the Tenancy Tribunal databases where they have not acted unlawfully. It should also be unlawful to ask a tenant about whether they have been to the Tribunal during the application process.

Work orders vs compensation

Where the Tribunal finds that a house is not up to standard then the Landlord should be required to bring it up to standard. It is not acceptable for the landlord to simply compensate the tenant and then put the unimproved house back out to rent.

We concluded our oral submission with Kayla telling her story.

Full written submission

You can read the full submission here: Renters United Submission on RTA Amendments (PDF, 301kb).

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