Recently, VUWSA President Jonathan Gee and Welfare Vice-President Rory Lenihan-Ikin made an oral submission in parliament. They spoke to the Social Services Select Committee on the government’s Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill. The bill proposes amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act (1986), to improve rental standards and tenancy services.
VUWSA supports the bill, but told the committee that further amendments are required. Currently the bill would require smoke alarms in all residential properties by July 2016, new requirements for underfloor and ceiling insulation by 2019, and stronger rights for tenants.
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VUWSA proposed that ventilation and heating standards be added to the bill, and that students’ associations and charity groups be given the power to act on behalf of tenants at the Tenancy Tribunal.
Gee and Lenihan-Ikin cited student health and wellbeing as their central concern, and appealed to the conscience of committee members with examples of mould-ridden flats, and of the powerlessness and fear that many students feel when dealing with the Tenancy Tribunal.
“There’s a power imbalance between students and landlords when students represent themselves against landlords,” said Gee.
Gee said students’ associations should be allowed to act on behalf of tenants, so that the focus is on the property meeting housing standards rather than on disputes between the tenant and landlord.
Lenihan-Ikin noted that the poor quality of housing negatively impacts student health and wellbeing. He said heating standards must be a requirement and the proposed insulation requirements did not go far enough.
He said that the state of mouldy flats was a crisis, and if not “addressed with proper ventilation, our students will continue to suffer lifelong illnesses caused by the conditions in their flats.”
The bill was introduced by Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith to address the negative impact poor housing has on people’s wellbeing.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei opposed parts of the bill, saying smoke alarms and insulation were just “two small steps” in the right direction; and added that the government’s abandoned 2013 Warm Up New Zealand scheme would have been far more effective.
In March 2015, Labour’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill failed at the first reading, with National MP Paul Foster-Bell referring to it as “Stalinist.” In the months since Labour have continued to petition for a bill that would include a rental warrant of fitness.
VUWSA have actively campaigned for the introduction of a rental warrant of fitness for several years, petitioning both the government and the Wellington City Council.
The bill proposes that insulation would not need to be installed until July 2019, by which point we’ll all have asthma, chest infections, shitty grad jobs, and be drowning in student debt.
Salient will keep you updated on the bill as it progresses through parliament.