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More rentals, security of tenure, on tenant advocate’s agenda

Feb 13th, 2018 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

Renting will feature in the Salvation Army’s ‘State of the Nation’ report, released tomorrow.

A tenancy advocate hopes this week’s Salvation Army ‘State of the Nation’ report address issues in the country’s rental market.

Renter’s United co-founder Robert Whitaker says there is a supply problem in Wellington’s rental market.

“I think, overall, Wellington Council estimates Wellington is about 3500 houses short of where it needs to have housing for everybody, that’s including home-owned houses as well as rentals.

“Obviously, that kind of general pressure on housing means that rentals are in short supply.

The annual Salvation Army report addresses five key areas: crime and punishment, housing, our children, work and incomes and social hazards.

Whitaker, who advocates for renters, says high demand from January to March has been happening for several years, with not much action taken to address it.

“It’s got progressively worse and it seems this year it has got particularly bad and I think there’s probably a number of factors that have contributed to it getting especially bad.”

The main problem, he says, is renters snapping up properties faster and trying to stay on in properties longer, resulting in low availability.

Trade Me figures show most properties are let out within 24 – 48 hours of being listed, Whitaker says.

“Another factor is over the last few years, Wellington’s rental market has become more and more aligned to this period of time.”

Many property management companies let properties on one-year, fixed-term tenancies, Whitaker says.

“They try and organise them so that they expire in this January to March period so that they can get top-dollar for the rent when it rolls around.”

Whitaker says more houses, particularly public housing, are needed to ease the pressure on the private rental market.

“There’s more and more people competing for the same set of private rentals, and so any kind of housing building that can go on will help.”

He is also calling for law changes to increase tenants’ security of tenure.

Cameron Hills works part-time and studies science at Victoria University, and says finding a flat has been “horrendous”.

“Houses that are damp, mouldy and cold in summer are being listed at prices too high to be able to afford, and houses that are only slightly okay are even more expensive.

“My girlfriend and I were looking for six months before we finally negotiated to stay in our current place two days before the move out date.”

Freelance makeup artist Mia Cutelli believes tenancy agencies and landlords are the problem.

“This time last year, I had already spent months and months, travelling back and forth from my hometown just for flat viewings with real estate agents.

“Some of the places I viewed were to no degree fit for living.

“The market was (and is) so dry, that tenancy agencies felt okay about students living in mouldy rat-infested buildings and charging them $200 a week for them. It was absolutely disgusting.”

Cutelli’s previous rental property was damp and mouldy, and made her sick.

“I was pretty much sick the entire time I was there. Moisture and mould was getting into everything and there was nothing I could do about it.”

She says it took almost four months, 16 emails, five phone calls, and a threat of legal action before Te Aro Tenancies fixed the ventilation.

“I deserve compensation for my time there, as do a lot of other people living in similar sub-par homes in Wellington. It’s not only the rental market that’s bad, it’s the houses too.

“The rental property warrant of fitness needs to come into play fast, and all rental properties should be thoroughly and routinely inspected.

“Tenancy agencies should be penalised if they knowingly leave their tenants in an unfit building. They should be required to do annual upgrades on buildings, and consistent maintenance”, Cutelli says.

Statistics New Zealand figures show that rents increased 2.3% in the year to December 2017. Wellington faced a 3.6% increase, exceeding Auckland’s 2.7% jump.

The government’s housing stocktake report, released on Monday, found renting is less affordable now than in the 1980s.

Authored by the Salvation Army’s Alan Johnson, Otago Public Health Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman and economist Shamubeel Eaqub it says inadequate housing supply, growing demand, and public housing sales are creating intense pressures.

In response, Housing Minister Phil Twyford affirmed the government’s commitment to improve conditions for 581,000 households nationwide who rent.

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