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Tenancy changes good, bad and not enough

Media Statement For immediate release Monday, 25 August, 2003

Alexander: Tenancy changes good, bad and not enough

United Future's Marc Alexander today congratulated Housing Minister Steve Maharey for picking up on some of his recommendations for helping landlords deal with recalcitrant tenants, but said more steps still needed to be taken.

Mr Alexander, who has championed the cause of landlords who have had their properties trashed and tenants run out leaving unpaid rent, was also critical of some aspects of the Government reforms.

The package, announced by Mr Maharey at the weekend, includes the ability for courts to use government-held address information to trace Tenancy Tribunal order debtors, new processes for Work and Income to help beneficiary tenants meet rent arrears, investigation of improved access to Tenancy Tribunal decisions, and further landlord education from the Ministry of Housing.

Mr Alexander said he was delighted to see the Government act on his call for more teeth to enforce orders against bad tenants, by allowing the courts to data-match with government departments to locate them.

"For too long, bad tenants have been able to hide behind privacy laws while landlords have been left chasing a shadow because of virtually unenforceable Tenancy Tribunal orders," he said.

At this stage, the only other government agency on board is the Ministry of Social Development.

"But bad tenants are by no means always beneficiaries, so in order to work and avoid discrimination, this scheme needs to involve other agencies like the IRD," he said.

Mr Alexander said the Government should have gone further and established a bad tenants register - something he has promoted for several months now.

"It is about improving access to information so the rigmarole of getting a Tenancy Tribunal order after the event can be avoided by effectively screening out the bad eggs before they get the key to someone's house.

"I am pleased that the Minister has been listening to me, but I invite him to keep his mind open on this particular issue."

Mr Maharey has previously dismissed the idea of a bad tenants register, citing the example of Queensland where a similar scheme was abused in some instances.

"However, my idea was that all the register would contain was objective information about a person's history as a tenant, including any Tenancy Tribunal decisions they were involved in. Then a landlord could check with the register when they are assessing a prospective tenant, and make a decision on an informed basis.

"The register could be used just as easily by tenants, wishing to check out whether their future landlord has a good history in dealing with tenants. And it could be used in a positive way, almost as one would use a reference to show that they are a responsible tenant or landlord," he said.

Mr Alexander was less enthusiastic about other aspects of the reforms, such as the plan to ensure that tenants are not evicted, by covering their rent arrears through Work and Income.

"We have a situation at the moment where Work and Income will not reimburse landlords for rent arrears but will fund the offending tenants to move to another rental property, creating yet another opportunity to offend.

"Although this new proposal does ensure that landlords should get paid, it does not make these tenants any more responsible," he said.

Mr Alexander wants to see more tenancy law changes, and sees the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, as the ideal vehicle.

"I would like to see wilful abandonment of a property included as an offence under the Residential Tenancies Act.

"I also see no reason why there should be a maximum bond payment of four weeks, when it could be the subject of negotiation. This money is held by Tenancy Services and does not profit the landlord directly, yet could allow them to set the bond based on the perceived risk of damage," he said


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