A survey of more than 600 renters shows most rental properties are damp and aren't insulated.
The so-called People's Review of Renting by advocacy groups Action Station and Renters United paints a grim picture for renters across the country.
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Seventy percent of the survey respondents' properties aren't insulated, just over half aren't weathertight and more than 60 percent don't have a fixed form of effective heating.
However, landlords say independent research by BRANZ shows the exact opposite – that 70 percent of rental homes do in fact have insulation.
“The advocates admit that their findings are not representative and that the nature and timing of the review meant they were more likely to hear from people sharing negative experiences,” Property Investors’ Federation executive officer Andrew King told Newshub.
Renters who took part in the new study say poor housing makes them physically and mentally unwell. They feel desperate and unable to raise problems with landlords because the demand for rental properties is high.
"You're just so cold you don't want to do anything," one anonymous renter who took part in the survey said.
Another said: "The power is all in the landlord's hands and the tenant has almost none."
Kate Day, from Renters United, says almost half the population rent and yet much of the debate focuses on home-ownership.
"I hope [this report] will change the conversation and renters are finally listened to," she told Newshub, adding that renters feel like "second-class citizens".
However, Mr King says tenants have "a huge amount of power" and landlords are legally entitled to maintain properties and can be fined if they fail to do so.
Recommendations from the Action Station and Renters United report, released on Wednesday, include:
- establishing a commissioner for housing
- all rental properties pass a mandatory warrant of fitness
- abolishing no-fault evictions
- abolishing letting fees
- require all landlords and property managers to be licensed
- funding tenants' education and advocacy services
- changing the Tenancy Tribunal to give more power to renters.
About 610 people took part in the survey in June and July this year, with renters asked to share stories online through the Action Station and Renters United websites.
Last week Wellington City Council announced it will be introducing warrant of fitness checks to help bring rental homes up to scratch.
The scheme is voluntary and there are no penalties. Rental homes must meet 29 criteria to pass the warrant, including having a functional safe oven, effective heating, only a small amount of visible mould, insulation, and it must be weathertight.