Renters United!, the Wellington tenants lobby group, recently held a conference on renting at Victoria University with the aim of pushing tenant’s rights onto the radar for this year’s local government elections.
Around 30 student politicians, unionists, and campaigners met in the Student Union building for an afternoon of planning and workshops on renting in New Zealand.
Conference convenor, Robert Whitaker, began proceedings, and spoke of the need to end the perception of renting as a “temporary stage of life” in NZ, and the right of all tenants to a “healthy, safe and secure home.”
Keynote speakers—Max Rashbrooke, editor of Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis; Lucy Barnard, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Public Health at Otago University; and Mark Bennett, Senior Lecturer at the VUW Law School—covered the economic, health, and legal issues facing renters in Wellington.
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Participants gave anecdotes of their renting experiences, with one describing the “mould growing in my dehumidifier,” while another spoke of the time she “came home to find the landlord had added an extra floor to [her] house.”
The significance of the local body elections later this year was emphasised as a key point for the group, and participants were encouraged to discuss ways in which Renters United! could make an impact on the polls.
“The local body elections this year present a huge opportunity for us to get a rental warrant of fitness in Wellington,” said Whitaker, pointing to the success of the living wage campaign’s effort to make WCC a living wage employer.
Whitaker pointed out work already done by others in Wellington, noting that “VUWSA has already done a lot of the groundwork” on campaigning for a rental warrant of fitness, and praised Lucy Barnard’s efforts in getting a trial programme set up in Wellington and Dunedin.
VUWSA Welfare Vice-President Rory Lenihan-Ikin, commented that a key focus for VUWSA this year will be a rental warrant of fitness, and expects this will make a “dramatic improvement” to the quality of flats in Wellington.
“VUWSA’s been campaigning for a WOF for a number of years, and hopefully Renters United! will add another voice to the chorus.”
Renters United! was established in May 2015 with a seven-point manifesto for improving rental housing.