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Meth moral panic continues under proposed tenancy changes

Proposals to allow landlords to evict tenants with just seven days notice for methamphetamine contamination are an extension of the meth moral panic, The Salvation Army says.

The Army says the proposals risk making innocent people homeless and should be reconsidered as part of a comprehensive review of the Residential Tenancies Act.

While the army remains very concerned about rising availability and use of methamphetamine in New Zealand the use of tenancy law to combat drug crime is dubious and risks victimising tenants who may already be vulnerable, the Director of the Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit Lt-Colonel Ian Hutson says.

‘The previous Government used incidents of methamphetamine contamination of state houses as a moral panic to create the public perception that this problem was rife in our state housing stock and the current government seems to have been gripped by the same panic,’ Lt-Colonel Hutson says.

Eviction measures may be warranted where a house or flat is highly contaminated by methamphetamine residue, but conditions for this already exist under the act.

Clear rules need to be set around the levels of methamphetamine contamination that could result in an eviction and how that testing is carried out, he says.

‘When you’re risking making people homeless we need some clear guidance around the rules and the process. We’ve seen already some of the testing of this contamination was of doubtful quality and not particularly reliable,’ he says.

The government should also be focussed on addressing fundamental weaknesses in the act that have left a growing number of renters with insecure tenure, and on strict guidelines for all rented dwellings to ensure they meet basic health and safety standards.
These changes are particularly important for our most vulnerable people, as 70 per cent of children living in poverty in New Zealand live in rented accommodation.

‘All New Zealanders have the right to call the house or flat they occupy their home. It is important that we have tenancy laws which encourage and expect more professional behaviours from both landlords and tenant.’

Changes to tenancy laws supported by The Salvation Army include:
- Three-year fixed-term tenancies should be made mandatory
- A Warrant of Fitness for all rented dwellings to ensure they meet basic health and
safety standards.
- Controls on rent increases during a tenancy with rents only allowed to increase
once a year and by no more than the rate of increase of the average weekly wage.
- Tougher sanctions against parties for breaches of tenancy laws including making
serious breaches a criminal offence.
- Higher charges for using the Tenancy Tribunal and an end to using the interest
income from tenant bonds to fund the Tribunal. This interest income exceeds $20
million annually and should be used to fund tenants’ advocacy and support services.

Issued on the Authority of Commissioner Andy Westrupp (Territorial Commander)
The Salvation Army, New Zealand Fiji & Tonga Territory

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