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Substandard Housing Concern

July 8 2001 Media Statement

Landlords renting sub-standard houses may face hefty penalties in future, Housing Minister Mark Gosche warned today.

Mr Gosche said government concern about the appalling conditions some New Zealanders were living in could prompt a toughening of the Residential Tenancies Act.

A recent government report on sub-standard rental housing found no evidence that the current legislative standards for rental housing were too low or flawed. Instead the problems seems to be in administering and enforcing the legislation, said Mr Gosche.

"That report showed that the difficulties tenants face getting substandard housing rectified boil down to three things:
- the complaints system isn't strong enough
- the onus is on the tenant to complain to the local authorities or make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal and
- landlords and tenants lack knowledge of their legal rights and responsibilities."

As a result the Ministry of Housing and the new Housing New Zealand Corporation were looking at a range of initiatives including education for both tenants and landlords and introducing deterrent penalties for landlords if they fail to comply with work orders ordered under the Residential Tenancies Act.

"We need to give the complaints system more teeth. There are more than 300 applications made to the Tenancy Tribunal each year by tenants wanting work done on their rental properties. In most cases landlords comply with Tenancy Tribunal orders. However when landlords fail to do this there is currently no way to make them do the necessary work."

"We are looking at changing the Residential Tenancies Act to provide for stiff penalties for landlords who fail to comply, to send a very clear message to all landlords that this behaviour will not be tolerated," Mr Gosche said.

Landlords can already be prosecuted by local authorities, as the Waitakere City Council did recently resulting in a $40,000 fine for the landlord.

"But this is the exception rather than the rule. The reality is that local authority prosecutions are rare and when they are taken they are slow and expensive."

In addition the housing agencies were developing a voluntary code of practice for landlords, and looking at how to increase housing advocacy and education services, to ensure that landlords and tenants know their legal rights.

Mr Gosche said the changes would particularly help low income New Zealanders.

"Tenants in substandard housing are less likely to have the skills required to effectively use the complaints system. Many of them have English as a second language and are fearful of 'officialdom', " said Mr Gosche.


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