The National Party announced it wants to bring back no-cause evictions the same week the UK Conservative Party banned them. Renters United national organiser Éimhín O’Shea looks at why we’re so far behind the rest of the world on this issue.
Aotearoa has a history of leading the world on social justice issues, but when it comes to housing, and particularly renting, we’re lagging far behind.
A few months ago, the National Party announced an intention to bring back no-cause evictions to our rental market. When National housing spokesperson Chris Bishop announced this policy, he referred to it as a “progressive, pro-tenant move” saying that the move would encourage landlords to “…take a chance on some of these tenants who might otherwise miss out on the rental market.” He went on to suggest, dubiously, that it had been written in conjunction with “people who work with homeless people.”
There’s no more illustrative example of just how far out the gate we are on housing than the fact that the very same week National announced this policy, the UK Conservative Party announced they were going to ban no-cause evictions in Britain. The party of literal landed gentry went, “hold on a minute, this isn’t fair to tenants” at the same time National tried to spin it as a pro-renter move.
It takes remarkable mental gymnastics to argue that making evictions easier in a housing crisis could possibly be good for tenants, but it’s illustrative of a wider problem in Aotearoa when it comes to housing. Time and time again we have put property before people, leading to a severe imbalance in how we talk about this issue and leaving us wildly out of step in comparison with our international contemporaries.
Aotearoa is not alone globally in experiencing a housing crisis, but we are remarkably ill-equipped to address it. We are the only country in the OECD with no capital gains tax, we have no cap on rent increases while two-thirds of OECD countries have rental price regulation, and our Healthy Homes Standards are a bare minimum which lack serious enforcement. We do, however, have the dubious honour of being the OECD country with the highest share of renters spending more than 40% of their disposable income on rent. We are not equivalent to our global counterparts when it comes to housing, we are worse.
As it currently stands, there are a set list of reasons why a landlord may end a tenancy outside of typical lease clauses, such tenants engaging in antisocial or illegal behaviour or being at least three weeks in rent arrears, or when the landlord wants to vacate the property for them or a member of their family to move in. No-cause evictions do away with the need for landlords to provide any justification at all for doing so.
For tenants, this policy further entrenches renters as second-class citizens. Every renter is familiar with that inescapable nagging at the back of your mind that cautions you against ever getting too settled. Knowing that you could be kicked out at the whim of your landlord is dehumanising and harms your ability to participate in your community. More materially, the return of no-cause evictions destroys, in practice, every single other right that renters hold. You can’t ask your landlord to make your home healthy, to only increase rents by reasonable amounts, or to respect any of the rules around tenancies if you can be evicted just for asking.
But no-cause evictions aren’t just bad for tenants, they’re bad for well-meaning landlords, too. No-cause evictions further polarise the relationship between renters and landlords, rendering the relationship inescapably adversarial. Landlords who want to do right by their tenants don’t want them to be too afraid to alert them to problems with the property or to ask them to conduct maintenance out of fear of being evicted, and they don’t want tenants who can’t risk putting down roots in the community.
We know the negative long-term effects caused to children by moving around frequently, we know only two percent of housing in this country is accessible when (at least) 16% of our population have some form of mobility issues, and we know that the worst landlords refuse to rent to families, older renters, our LGBTQI+ whanau, and ethnic minorities.
Nearly one-third of New Zealanders live in homes they don’t own. Even if you think this policy won’t directly affect you, odds are it will hurt someone you care about.
Here’s the truth: there’s no such thing as a “no cause” eviction. There is always a reason, this policy just allows landlords to hide what that reason is. It means that landlords who hold discriminatory views or who are willing to evict someone from their home for the few extra dollars per week they might be able to squeeze from a different tenant are empowered to do so. It means that renters are less able to assert their rights, and more vulnerable to abuse. It means that relationships between well-meaning landlords and renters will become strained. It will weaken our local communities as more renters move more often. It will continue our failure to care for one another when it comes to housing. It will mean that we fall further behind our international counterparts on basic human rights for our people.
National are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. There are already a multitude of reasons you can kick out a renter, many of which are actually the examples National cites for wanting to make this change. It’s not unreasonable to expect landlords to give a decent reason before they deprive someone of their home, end of story.
Come October 15th, nearly a third of this country could wake up weeks away from finding themselves out on the curb at the whim of their landlords. Forgive me if I don’t believe Chris Bishop when he says that this will be good for renters.