Opinion: NZ's lack of rental regulation is screwing over tenants

OPINION: There are far too many New Zealanders who have been stuck wondering if they're going to be able to put a roof over their heads, and I'm one of them.

Apart from the occasional stint spent living with members of my extended family, I have lived in rental accommodation since I was a child - and the spectre of the landlord has always hung over me.

Once I left home and went flatting, the stress got worse. I wasn't a child passively sitting through all of it - I was an adult managing it myself.

I got the lovely experience of turning up to a house viewing and feeling the fear rise up in my throat as more and more prospective tenants - my competition - arrived.

My most recent move was not exactly easy. I've got a pet - an outdoor rabbit - and that meant finding a place that would accept pets, which is much harder.

Thankfully it only took us about a month to find our new place and our lovely landlord/property manager - but there were still big obstacles to face.

The very first property we were supposed to view cancelled on us, after a week of emailing back and forth to book a viewing. That cancellation was because we were unable to "bid" on a higher price for the rent.

Instead, the property was going to a family willing to pay an extra $200 a month above the advertised price.

"We are just unable to turn away long-term renters (families) who are willing to pay a little bit more," the landlord told me.

On top of that delightful experience, the number of pet-friendly rentals is small and the number in my flat's budget was even smaller, making the entire search really stressful.

But it shouldn't be. It needs to be better than this.

Butternut Squash, the outdoor rabbit that caused quite a fuss. She's very cute.
Butternut Squash, the outdoor rabbit that caused quite a fuss. Photo credit: Newshub.

Property letting is governed by Residential Tenancies Act 1986, which is way, way too old to even slightly suffice now. Since it was brought in, the number of renters has grown hugely and a lot of us are beginning to accept we may just be renting for our entire lives.

But the Act doesn't make it easy for us to do that happily. We have to contact the landlord for minor alterations like adding picture hooks, getting a pet and replacing the curtains.

The Government has started fiddling with the laws to make things slightly less one-sided - abolishing letting fees and bringing in the Healthy Homes legislation.

Now I'm looking forward to what's next in line: reforming the Residential Tenancies Act.

New laws could be far friendlier to tenants, including ending no-cause tenancy evictions, better equipping landlords and tenants to reach an agreement about pets and alterations and limiting rent increases to once a year.

Consultation finished on October 21 and changes could come into force in 2020.

So what's wrong with making the system fairer on renters? Well the National Party believes it would make rents higher and people poorer.

"The Government has already done a bunch of well-meaning things in terms of healthy things, taxes and the like on landlords. What do the landlords do?" Simon Bridges told The AM Show in August.

"I'll tell you what they do - they pass the cost on to the poor old renter. So by being kind, they're being cruel."

I'll give you an idea what's cruel: living in a house I can never make my true home.


Katie Fitzgerald is a Digital News Producer for Newshub.