Quarter of renters who left homes forced out by landlords - study

"Eviction made some participants feel betrayed."
"Eviction made some participants feel betrayed." Photo credit: Getty.

By Hamish Cardwell of RNZ

A new study shows a quarter of renters who left their homes did so because their landlord forced them to.

The largest research project on eviction in this country was presented on Thursday in Wellington.

The Marsden Funded study titled Eviction and its Consequences brings together experts across disciplines looking at what causes people to be kicked out of their homes, and the toll it takes.

Tū Kotahi Māori Asthma and Research Trust manager Cheryl Davies described two families forced to live in a storage yard during lockdown last year after being evicted.

"Living, in the middle of winter, with no cooking facilities, no natural light, mama's dealing with a chronic health condition, and a toilet that is down the other end of the yard with no showering facilities."

Otago University housing researcher Dr Elinor Chisholm said two dozen people were interviewed for her part of the research looking at peoples' experiences of being evicted.

She said people often did not know why they were kicked out and grieved for years afterwards.

"Penny says 'we've looked after the house perfectly, kept the grounds tidy'.

"Mia said they had never missed a rent payment ever: 'We were tidy, there were no issues at all'.

"Eviction made some participants feel betrayed. Eviction as Katrina explained it: 'Makes you feel basically like a bit of dirt on the bottom of someone's shoe'."

Chisholm said those evicted often struggled to pull together cash for a bond and rent for a new house, or to pay for storage and moving costs.

She said those interviewed described ending up in far worse living conditions than their previous homes - often bunking in with friends in overcrowded houses.

"Jenny described 12 kids plus three adults living in a two-and-a-half bedroom flat.

"Polly and her partner and daughter moved into a caravan and the garage of their best friends and their kids.

"Sharing a bathroom and a kitchen among that many people was really stressful. She said that the friendship between the four adults started to get really strained."

Chisholm said people described their children needing hospitalisation for respiratory conditions because of poor living conditions after being evicted.

There were spikes in anxiety, insomnia, alcohol use, and reliance on unhealthy takeaway foods because evictees had no kitchen to prepare food in or anywhere to safely store it, she said.

Otago University senior research fellow Dr Lucy Telfar-Barnard analysed data from Stats NZ's 2018 General Social Survey.

She said a quarter of renters in the survey explained the reason they left their last house was because their landlord asked them to.

Telfar-Barnard said a surprising provisional finding was that those in the LGBTQI community had their tenancies ended by landlords at twice the rate of the general population.

She said she needed to investigate why that was the case.

Telfar-Barnard said eviction hits those with the least hardest - and could be particularly difficult for young people.

"Those children are being moved around schools, losing the connections, just having that huge upheaval constantly and the insecurity that comes with it.

"I don't think it's healthy for us as a society that we have this large proportion of people who have an area of their lives they have no control over."