'Massive' power imbalance: Chlöe Swarbrick calls for reform of student accommodation rules

Chlöe Swarbrick says new regulations for student accommodation are desperately needed after a number of students were turned away from their homes upon returning to a locked down Auckland.

The Green MP told Newshub she knew of "a handful" of students who had tried to return to their university halls in the central Auckland electorate and been told they could not stay there.

She did not directly name the universities involved but a spokesperson for the University of Auckland told Newshub none of their students were denied accommodation.

"Every student who contacted the University to move in during level 3 was accommodated.  In some cases this was an offer for them to move temporarily into a studio apartment to ensure the wellbeing of already established bubbles.  When offered it was at the lower rate already being charged to these students. Some students elected not to take this offer and stay where they were until level 3 has ended."

Swarbrick says after "putting pressure" on the universities, students were allowed in "but we have no idea how widespread the issue is".

The Green MP says the issue is fuelled by a "massive" power imbalance between students and universities.

"Student accommodation does not fall into any kind of remit for other rental properties - they have no access to things like the tenancy tribunal which leaves them incredibly vulnerable." 

The Residential Tenancies Act does not apply to student housing - but a subclause of the Act mentions those who provide student housing must "have in place house rules that aim to create an environment that fosters personal development and encourages a sense of community and association with fellow students".

These house rules must be made clear to tenants.

"This leaves them extremely exposed and vulnerable when those student accommodation providers are not up to standard," says Swarbrick. 

Swarbrick previously referred to student accommodation as "the Wild West" of renting after Victoria University of Wellington was blasted for charging students a "holding fee" for rooms they could not use.

It was this controversy that spurred the MP to push for an inquiry into student housing conducted by the Education and Workforce Select Committee. The results of the inquiry are expected in May.