Elderly couple live through months of verbal abuse, loud parties, death threats as Kāinga Ora refuses to evict unruly tenants

By Anneke Smith of RNZ

A litigation lawyer says the state landlord Kāinga Ora is "unquestionably" breaking the law by not evicting unruly tenants.

An elderly couple living in a state housing complex in Whangārei endured hours of rowdy partying at the weekend that ended in an arrest and car crash.

They desperately want their neighbours evicted and are, according to one lawyer, the tip of the iceberg in cases of Kāinga Ora tenants being terrorised in their own homes.

Litigation lawyer Adina Thorn has been inundated with stories, ranging from people having machetes next door, blasting music 24/7 or shouting at their neighbours.

"It seems to be pretty widespread across New Zealand, which is alarming. It seems to be from all sorts of ages including, sadly, many elderly victims," she says.

The government denies having a hard-line 'no eviction' policy, despite not evicting any Kāinga Ora tenants in the past three years.

Associate Minister of Housing Poto Williams has said evictions do happen in "very rare circumstances" but has not been able to say what would warrant such action.

Instead, Williams says a 'sustainable tenancies' approach had seen 159 households transferred for anti-social behaviour in the last 12 months.

Thorn said not only was this "unquestionably" breaking the law but Kāinga Ora was also fighting cases through the Tenancy Tribunal on taxpayer dollars.

"I personally find it just astounding that this Government agency is making these poor people go to Housing New Zealand. They're defending these cases in the Tenancy Tribunal, we're paying for it.

"They're putting these people through the hell and stress of a hearing, they're getting decisions against them and they're continuing. This is a public disgrace."

Section 45 1(e) of the Residential Tenancies Act says landlords must "take all reasonable steps to ensure that none of the landlord's other tenants causes or permits any interference with the reasonable peace, comfort, or privacy of the tenant in the use of the premises."

"To me it's outrageous to be running a policy that's inconsistent, not even inconsistent, it's really the opposite to the Act," Thorn says.

"The people who are contacting me, they are victims. Many of them vulnerable, many of them are elderly. [Their stories are] screaming, 'I'm afraid, I could be personally harmed'."

An elderly couple, who RNZ has agreed to not name, living in a Kāinga Ora housing complex in Whangārei, have lived through months of verbal abuse, loud parties and even death threats.

"It's brought a lot of stress between us. I only have to hear something or see the security light go on and I'm at the window. We are told to go out with our phones on video so that we can record everything. This is how we've lived since [our neighbours moved in]."

In a statement, Poto Williams said to the government recognised some Kāinga Ora tenants may have complex needs, including mental health and addiction challenges.

"Rather than throwing people out on the street, often including children who are blameless in the situation, we have made a conscious choice to actively manage difficult tenants, providing wrap around support from a range of government agencies and other community health providers."

But the elderly couple say they don't understand why they, and emergency services, should have to put up with bad behaviour while more than 20,000 people languish on the housing wait list.

"How do these people get away with it? How do they get into these homes, vandalise them, when there's people out there on the streets who could do with a nice home?"

Antisocial public housing tenants are not a new issue. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern herself acknowledged she had heard of similar cases in her own role as a local MP.

Ardern said it was a balancing act but everyone, both tenants and their neighbours, should feel safe.

"We do have to make sure that people in our state housing are respecting basic expectations in a community and not terrorising people around them."

In a statement, Kāinga Ora's chief executive Andrew McKenzie said the elderly couple's neighbours' behaviour, including the weekend's events, was unacceptable.

"We have been very concerned about this situation for some time, and have been working with the Police, Oranga Tamariki and other support agencies to address it as a priority."

McKenzie said the agency sought legal advice on its ability to stop the party but, like any landlord, there was no legal option to prevent it occurring and altercations were now going through the justice system.

Where needed, Kāinga Ora will relocate tenants but any decisions must take into account the implications for them and their children; factors often not obvious to neighbours, he said.