Housing lobby calls for rent freeze extension on behalf of struggling renters

 Housing lobby calls for rent freeze extension on behalf of struggling renters

A housing lobbyist is calling for a rent freeze extension, accusing politicians of turning their backs on renters in need. 

The government announced a six-month freeze on rent increases on March 26 to look after tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The freeze is set to end on Friday with many tenants bracing themselves for sudden rent increases.

Housing lobbyist Sue Henry has been inundated with calls from renters worried about their future.

She says the end of the rent freeze only adds to the high financial stress caused by COVID-19 and should therefore be extended until April. 

"With job insecurity, and there's a lot of that out there, our group would like to see the rent freeze extended till at least April."

To keep the 20,000 strong social housing waitlist from increasing Henry says the rent freeze has to happen. 

"Hard times are really only just starting to bite, and because there's been job subsidies and rent subsidies it's not a good time to cancel something that's been keeping people in their homes."

She's been told of struggling tenants facing rent increases of $30 to $40 a week, while the Renters United group has heard of increases as high as $100. 

"They haven't even got money for food as it is you know, it's crazy out there," Henry said. 

In response to the end of the freeze, a group of tenants from Renters United, alongside Green Party leader James Shaw,  gathered on parliament lawn on Friday with signs asking fair rent to "come back soon."

Renters United's organiser Robert Whitaker says the freeze was a "time of stability for renters"

Henry is now calling for politicians to take action on the issue: "None of the politicians are even mentioning this, there's been absolutely nothing from them on this issue and they expect people to vote for them. But what are they voting on? To become homeless?"

She says it's a duty of the Government to protect renters.

Whitaker has the same message: "We call on our politicians to get rents under control as a priority for the next government. We need fair rent now." 

Last week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked landlords to "have a level of fair-mindedness" ahead of the rent freeze ending. 

Ardern says new legislation, that came into effect in August, limiting rent increases to once every 12 months, aims to deal with repetitive rent increases.

"Ultimately, my message would be we are still needing to look after our team of five million. We do still want our landlords to be making sure that they have long-term tenants that are able to sustain their rents in a really difficult environment. So I would ask that there be a level of fair-mindedness," Ardern said.