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Substandard Housing In PN

The advent of winter has made the issue of poor standards in rental housing a pertinent issue again. Recently the Housing Advice Centre has seen several tenants with complaints about their housing that highlights the need for the monitoring of safety and health standards.

One client, a student with a family, told us that she had complained to her landlord because water was running down the walls of several rooms in her house. She was told to move her bedding and computer into the kitchen, and simply close off the damp rooms. No offer to deal with the situation; no offer to charge her the rental only on the one habitable room. Like many other tenants, she preferred to move than to have a protracted and angry confrontation with her landlord.

Other tenants have told us they can see water dripping onto electrical wiring; their children are constantly unwell; their landlords penalise them for mould appearing on bedroom walls.

Most of these tenants feel they cannot go through the stress of challenging landlords. They are already stressed to their limits with dealing with the consequences of living in sub-standard accommodation.

We are mindful that, for every tenant who comes to us, there are many, many more who simply move often, to the detriment of their mental health, their financial resources and their children's sense of stability. Many tenants do not want to use the process of complaining to Tenancy Services and taking a case to the Tenancy Tribunal. People stuck in the cycle of poverty have little energy to challenge middle class systems. They feel it is unfair that they should have to pay twenty dollars for a tribunal case around challenging their living in substandard housing, as they are often already paying exorbitant rent. They see the process as demanding of their time and resources. They see landlords as having the upper hand in tribunal cases, with professional documentation and the persuasive manner of professional people.

There are already health and safety bylaws and building codes which could be used to compel landlords to improve the condition of their houses. A Certificate of Fitness would make these codes enforceable. The City Council already has the mandate and resources to make landlords accountable for the standard of their houses and flats. It is not too much to ask that they use these powers to monitor rental housing by the use of a Certificate of Fitness.

A properly instituted and operated system such as the Certificate would give tenants prior knowledge of the standard of the house they intended to rent.

It would also make it easier for them to complain when clearly set out standards were violated. The citizens of Palmerston North deserve to have their rights to decent housing guaranteed.

Contact - Jude Marshall, Housing Advice Centre 06 358 4875

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