Auckland flooding: Green Party, community groups demand rent freeze after 'mind-blowing' suggestion landlords will raise rents

A renters' union, political party and community organisations are joining forces to demand the Government put in place a rent freeze for Auckland.

It comes after a property investor told RNZ she expects rents will go up in Auckland due to the lower supply of properties available following the devastating flooding that left hundreds of houses uninhabitable and many more needing repairs.

"I think it just needs understanding from landlords and from tenants that that will be the case and we may see some increased rent for that period of time," President of the Auckland Property Investors Association Kristin Sutherland said, adding she's "not in a position" to say whether that's fair or not.

"It's the same in any market when the supply and demand changes. I don't think landlords are out there to make an extra buck.

"At the end of the day, they're in there just trying to do the best by their tenants really, and offer properties to people. If the rental price has changed during that time, then that is the market."

Sutherland's comments have angered many Kiwis and sparked an open letter from 20 community organisations, including the Salvation Army and Save the Children NZ, calling on Minister for Auckland Michael Wood to "put communities first" by putting a temporary freeze on rent increases.

Renters United president Geordie Rogers drafted the letter. He told Newshub he believes landlords are making a "conscious decision" to raise rent simply to "fill their own pockets" at a time when Auckland is experiencing a crisis.

"The way that they've [landlords] made it sound is that rent prices will just go up because there's less properties. What they've quite conveniently avoided is the fact that every single one of those properties that's having a rent increase, a landlord has made the conscious decision to charge more people in Auckland a higher amount in rent."

Rogers said there is always going to be risk involved in being a landlord and they shouldn't expect "free money" from renters when tough times hit.

"I think that while renters are looking for a little bit of extra cash to make repairs or put food on the table for their family, landlords are more concerned about where their next Sauvignon Blanc is going to come from, so they're increasing rents.

"This is a situation where if you weren't insured, that is your loss. But ultimately, regardless of whether landlords win or lose in this situation, tenants will lose because either their rent's going to go up or their landlord didn't have insurance and they've lost their home."

Rogers said this is just another example of tenants having to pick up the cost.

"Very rarely do we ever see a landlord picking up the cost - most people in the business of providing rental properties are more interested in making sure they can make a profit than providing someone a home."

Auckland Property Investors Association general manager Sarina Gibbon responded to the open letter, saying her organisation has not called on landlords to increase rent, and don't plan to either.

"We continue to encourage landlords to work with their tenants humanely, pragmatically and expediently under these difficult circumstances," Gibbon said.

Gibbon believes a rent freeze wasn't warranted, saying "now isn't the time to politick for ill-conceived feel-good policies".

"Let's get the data points onto the board, keep a cool head and come up with a policy response to these floods that actually works," she said.

The Greens are also backing the open letter, with MP Chlöe Swarbrick telling Newshub any suggestion rents should go up as a result of the flooding is "mind-blowing".

"When COVID-19 first reached our shores [the Government] put in place that six month rent freeze. So we do have very recent precedent and it wouldn't be particularly hard to roll that kind of response out again."

Swarbrick said we're facing "an inequality crisis" as a result of the flooding.

"It just seems so far removed from the reality of the struggle that people were already facing with the tragedy and loss we've just seen in Tamaki Makaurau, and to now be threatening to raise rents is just unreal," she said.

Newshub has contacted Michael Wood's office for a response to the open letter.