Abusive landlords, privacy breaches, and runaway rent prices are the bread to the butter that is Renters United. The only thing worse than landlords are the structural conditions that created them. Look, I get it, not everyone wants to own their own house at whatever point they’re at in their life, but New Zealand’s obsession with housing as a means to wealth rather than as a place to live is fucking cooked. I mean, why take the risk of doing something innovate, creative and interesting with your life when you could get a boring-ass 9–5 doing fuck all that’s useful for society, and then sit on your chuff while some poor sod pays your second mortgage as you watch those sweet sweet capital gains stack up. Critic Te Arohi sat down for a chat with Renters United spokesperson, Ashok Jacob about how to fix this mess.
Initially starting the campaign in Wellington, Renters United have since expanded to Auckland and Hamilton with Ashok saying they plan to continue growing. They have campaigned for nation-wide policy changes to give renters a fairer go. When the government froze rent increases under lockdown, Renters United campaigned for the rent freeze to continue after lockdown.
Renters United is currently campaigning for rent control in New Zealand. Ashok says that Aotearoa has a “uniquely pro-landlord laws”, pointing to the fact that most OECD countries have some form of rent control. New Zealand, on the other hand, has little to no restrictions on when rent can be increased, or by how much, leaving rent prices entirely to landlords.
Many New Zealand politicians or commentators argue rent control would be bad for supply, but Renters United believe “it’s not about the supply.” When the number of rentals listed in the market decrease after rent control it’s because “rent controls give people more security in their home, leading to longer tenures and fewer listings for that property on the market”. Although, Ashok notes that if rent control is implemented it will have to happen “alongside supply-side intervention”, i.e. building more houses.
Renters United believe no-one should be paying more than a third of their wages on rent.
In Wellington, where rent is often more than double typical Dunedin rent, tenants are spending 70–80% of their wages on rent and students are spending more than the entirety of their student loan or allowance on rent. Rent is currently much cheaper in Dunedin, but Ashok pointed out that rents continue to increase every year, the quality of our flats is pretty shit, and our landlords are “as cruel and incompetent as anywhere else”. Ashok believes steep rent increases like those seen in Palmerston North in recent years are likely to happen in Dunedin as more students come to the city.
Renters make up half of the voting population, so it’s surprising to Ashok to see no political parties come out in full swing for renters. Renters United believe that while National and ACT platforms have been unsurprisingly bad for renters, no current political parties’ platform has adequate support for renters. With the right pressure from groups like Renters United, they hope to see some action in the near future. Ashok didn’t want to describe himself as “optimistic”, but said he was “interested to see” if the government implements some changes to help renters in the upcoming budget announcement in May.
Ashok said Renters United had a productive talk with Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams, and it was “not impossible” something like rent caps could be introduced. By no means would this be a radical policy according to Ashok, but the government is reportedly looking at overseas models to pull ideas from. In the meantime, Renters United will continue to push the idea of rent control into the public sphere and advocate for better laws to help renters across the country.
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