The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) believes that a recently-released report on Property Management in the rental sector should prompt urgent action from government.
The report, released by Anglican Advocacy, part of the Anglican Church’s social justice wing, finds that a lack of effective regulation of Property Managers has provided space for abusive, neglectful and even illegal practices to be perpetrated against tenants, many of whom are fearful of the consequences of complaining.
ANZASW agrees with the report’s recommendation that Property Managers should be legally required to adopt a code of conduct, be licenced and be subject to greater oversight in order to prevent future abuses. ANZASW recommends that regulation should be provided by a newly-created statutory body, so as to ensure that judgments on complaints are fully enforceable.
The Association believes that, with a high number of New Zealanders frozen out of an unaffordable housing market and forced into rentals, this issue should be immediately addressed as part of the government’s ongoing review into the tenancy sector.
We also take the view that increased regulation of the industry would play an important role in combating the problem of cold, damp and mould-infested homes which disproportionately affect low-income families and minorities.
One out of ten houses in the country are not fit to live in, according to research by Otago University; inevitably, it is those who are poorest who are forced to risk their health by living in such properties, many of which are handled by Property Managers.
The Church’s report documents cases in which tenants repeatedly complained about mould, dampness and a lack of heating in their homes, but were ignored by Property Managers. The report notes that failure to respond to complaints was “the most common issue tenants and landlords reported.”.
The establishment of a statutory regulator of Property Managers could provide an option to tenants anxious about taking their grievances to Tenancy Services or a Tenancy Tribunal. While the law prevents punitive eviction notices being sent to tenants in response to Tribunal claims, many fear bad references or deferred retaliation. Additionally, records of Tribunal orders are accessible online, a fact that can lead to prejudice against complainants applying for a new rental.
ANZASW hopes that any new oversight body for Property Managers can handle complaints with greater privacy protections than is the case with Tribunal claims.
The scale of the problem of unhealthy homes is demonstrated in alarming statistics; tens of thousands of children are hospitalised every year due to the effects of poor quality housing, while 1,600 New Zealanders, many of them elder persons, die annually for the same reasons.
The effect of poor housing on quality of life, mental health and physical wellbeing is witnessed by social workers on a daily basis, who provide assistance to clients with housing, financial, health or welfare-related needs linked to their living conditions. Yet while such support helps to treat the symptoms of the problem, the cause cannot be fully addressed except at the level of government.
By making property managers more accountable as part of wider efforts to address the housing crisis, the government can improve the prospects of many New Zealanders across the country- and even save lives.
“For children living in unhealthy homes with families that are forced to choose between heating and eating, the impacts on their long-term development can be severe, and sometimes, irreversible,” Lucy Sandford-Reed, Chief Executive of ANZASW says.
“It affects their school performance and overall well-being in ways that often further the cycle of poverty,” she added.
“Elder persons in Aotearoa New Zealand are also increasingly faced with similar choices: they are having to rent at a higher rate than previous generations, often relying on income from pensions to get by, with little left over for basic necessities, including heating and food,” she continued.
“All of these problems are compounded in a situation where Property Managers are wielding the power they have over their tenants to maintain unacceptable living conditions. There is an urgent need to create legally-enforceable mechanisms through which Property Managers who are negligent or abusive can be held to account,” she concluded.
The Association looks forward to action being taken by Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford in the near future on this issue.