Kāinga Ora: State housing not a 'right', even if unruly tenants have children - lawyer

A lawyer taking on Kāinga Ora over its apparent refusal to evict bad tenants says it doesn't matter if they have children or not because they don't have a "right" to state housing. 

Kāinga Ora hasn't evicted anyone since 2018, Associate Minister for Housing Poto Williams told Parliament last week, under questioning from National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis, who said it proved the Government "has effectively banned state house evictions".

And Kāinga Ora has been ordered to pay compensation to several neighbours of unruly state housing tenants, RNZ reported on Wednesday, over its failure as a landlord to ensure its tenants aren't interfering with their neighbours' right to peace and quiet. In at least one case, the Tenancy Tribunal warned Kāinga Ora its refusal to terminate tenancies was in breach of the Residential Tenancies Act and "cannot continue". 

"We're talking about a very small number hopefully, but what's horrifying is just the number of emails and the sheer abuse that a lot of people are experiencing across New Zealand," litigation lawyer Adina Thorn told The AM Show on Wednesday. 

"We're talking about families next door in state houses, in the same cul-de-sac, and they're talking about being subject to mental abuse, sometimes physical abuse, 24/7, there's reference to machetes, there's gang behaviour, there's abuse at their children. There's a set of grandparents who said, 'My grandchildren don't visit me, it's too dangerous.' The picture that is emerging is bleak."

One neighbour she's heard from said they lived next to a "terrible alcoholic with a machete fetish who abused his partner and children continually", but claimed Kāinga Ora wasn’t' interested, blaming the conflict on a "cultural misunderstanding". 

"We are dealing with monsters here, and [Kāinga Ora] have got this no evictions policy which is outrageous because the deterrence in the system has gone."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked about the policy on Monday, telling reporters the agency was the "final provider of housing, in many respects".

"Once you evict someone from state housing… there are very few options left… I caveat that with the fact there is a competing need to make sure communities are safe."

She said Kāinga Ora still has the option to relocate tenants "into more suitable circumstances", so it wasn't "fair to say there are no interventions". RNZ reports there have been 159 transfers in the past 12 months. 

Though Willis blamed Labour for the situation, RNZ reported it was actually introduced in 2017 under National, then led by Bill English. The goal of the policy, dubbed 'Sustaining Tenancies', was to prevent more vulnerable people ending up homeless. The last eviction Kāinga Ora carried out was in April 2018, by which time the Labour-NZ First coalition was in Government.

Kāinga Ora chief executive Andrew McKenzie declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement the agency "has a role to provide a home for people in need".

"Where it is needed we will require customers to relocate, but any decision around relocation takes into account the implications this has not only for our customer, but for their children, which are factors that are often not obvious to neighbours.

"In such instances, the customer will be offered alternative housing, most often another Kāinga Ora home that better meets their needs. In some very limited circumstances the alternative accommodation may be with another housing provider or provider of specialist care in the community."

Williams told RNZ there are "wider implications" to be considered when relocating tenants or ending their tenancies - including children. 

Thorn said the children issue was "neutral, because the neighbours have got children and grandchildren as well". 

"We don't want to evict anybody. But sometimes there has to be an endpoint to this when things are completely out of control… it's a privilege, not a right, to live in a state house. If you're going to exploit that, something needs to give."