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Chris Bishop making the big claim on Twitter (Image: Archi Banal)
Chris Bishop making the big claim on Twitter (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsMay 4, 2023

We can’t find the charity that told Chris Bishop to bring back no-cause evictions

Chris Bishop making the big claim on Twitter (Image: Archi Banal)
Chris Bishop making the big claim on Twitter (Image: Archi Banal)

The National MP said a group working with homeless people told him to bring back no-cause evictions. Many have asked: which one? Hayden Donnell went in search of the answer.

National’s call for the return of no-cause rental evictions was less surprising than the reason it gave for the move. In interviews and tweets, its housing spokesperson Chris Bishop insisted he was trying to help renters by letting landlords kick them out of their homes for any reason or none at all. “I actually see it as a progressive, pro-tenant move,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast.

As evidence, he cited advice from unnamed “frontline” workers helping homeless people into housing. They’d told him that removing the solid buttress of the law would allow prospective tenants to gain more support from the invisible hand of the market. “What groups working with homeless people have said to me is that one thing we can do to try to get those people into the rental market is bring back the ability for landlords to give 90 days notice to terminate a tenancy,” he said. “That will give them the assurance that if it doesn’t work out, they can move the tenant on. They’ll take a chance on some of these tenants who might otherwise miss out on the rental market.”

No-cause evictions were banned after a 2020 amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act. The idea that charities were clamouring for their return struck some people as implausible, given the agencies that work with vulnerable people are generally known for arguing they should have more legal protections, not fewer. Several doubters even accused Bishop of making things up. 

An anonymous tweet asking "did quinovic write this policy?" and Chris Bishop's tweet responding with "No but people who work with homeless people did"
The tweets in question (Image: Archi Banal)

The idea that a politician would lie is almost unprecedented, and deserves proper investigation. Bishop himself has refused to name the groups that gave him his advice. When interviewed by The Spinoff, he said he didn’t have permission to share their identities. But he reiterated that people working with the unhoused had told him no-cause evictions would encourage landlords to take a chance on tenants, and added that Ministry of Social Development staff had as well. 

That left The Spinoff with the task of contacting the groups who work with unhoused and vulnerable tenants in New Zealand, in an effort to find one that’s been telling National to bring back no-cause rental evictions.

The first denial was predictable. Renters United spokesperson Geordie Rogers has debated Bishop in the media. He hadn’t suggested the policy in some sort of scheme to get on TV. “Security of tenure underpins every other right afforded to tenants. The reason landlords want to bring back no-cause terminations is because it makes retaliating when a renter tries to uphold their rights easier,” he said.

Community Housing Aotearoa, an umbrella agency with members including Habitat For Humanity, Age Concern, and several councils, also said it wasn’t informing National’s policy. “Community Housing Aotearoa supports measures to provide security for tenants, including through legislative means,” said its chief executive Paul Gilberd.

Pictured: Chris Bishop not telling The Spinoff which charity advised him on policy (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Christchurch City Mission declined to comment. However, The Spinoff understands it didn’t advise Bishop to reintroduce no-cause evictions.

Auckland City Mission was more forthright in its opposition. “We need policies and processes which build certainty and security into this system, and the suggested approach of no-cause evictions does not do this,” it said in a statement. 

Wellington City Missioner Murray Edridge was unequivocal. “Absolutely not,” he said, when asked if he’d suggested the policy. “We discussed it in our leadership team and people couldn’t understand why anybody would argue that.” Before no-cause evictions were banned, his organisation would regularly help people who’d been turfed out of their homes by landlords for spurious reasons, he said. “I think bringing them back is a ridiculous proposition. It talks into the fact that we’re treating people who are disadvantaged in a way that’s disrespectful and undignified.”

Jan Rutledge, manager of the housing and family support agency De Paul House, also said no-cause evictions diminished the security and stability of the people her organisation helps. “That’s not something we’d be keen on having a return to. It puts our families in harm’s way.”

The Salvation Army denied running an undercover mission to strip away renters’ legal protections. Its social policy director Lt.-Colonel Ian Hutson said National’s proposed rule would deter tenants from raising genuine issues with their landlords for fear they’ll be evicted. “The Salvation Army frequently picks up the pieces for those who are evicted from the private rental market in our transitional or social housing services, and we see the direct effects of such poor policies which serve to deepen the poverty of the people we serve.”

Stephen Hart, chief executive of CORT Community Housing, said his organisation had been among those urging the government to ban no-cause evictions back in 2020, and wasn’t trying to undermine its own work. “We supported the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act and continue to believe it offers a fair balance of rights and obligations for both renters and property owners.”

John Taylor, executive director for the community based disability service Community Connections, said the ban on no-cause evictions hadn’t impacted his organisation’s ability to find housing for disabled people. “People who take the chance on us do it not because they have the fallback option of kicking us out. They do it for a different reason in my experience,” he said. “In principle I would be very much against the idea of no-cause evictions because it means people have much less security of tenure and that impacts their health, and I would not be up for that at all.”

Bishop announced National’s policy in an address in Queenstown, which he said was ground zero for the country’s broken rental market.

However, Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust chief executive Julie Scott rejected any allegation that she’d suggested no-cause evictions as a potential cure for the region’s issues. “We have had no input into National’s policy,” she said, before adding her personal view. “I don’t believe that clause should be brought back.”

Auckland Action Against Poverty coordinator Brooke Stanley Pao said she didn’t know anyone in her sector who would advocate for the return of no-cause evictions. “I’m really questioning who are the community organisations he’s connected to who would suggest that. We need more renters rights. Not less,” she said.

“I think he’s talking shit.”

Bishop didn’t respond to a request for a hint as to the identity of the charities he talked to.

PS: The Ministry of Social Development also said it hadn’t provided any official advice to National.

Do you know which charity advised National to bring back no-cause rental evictions? Get in touch:

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