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OPINIONSocietyAugust 6, 2020

Important message from a landlord: Calm the hell down about the new renting law


The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill is now law. Mark Todd, long-time landlord and founder of Ockham Residential, welcomes the new legislation – and says hysterical critics need to get a grip.

Hell hath no fury like the landlord lobby trying to thwart some fairly innocuous legislation that’ll help tenants feel a little more secure in the homes that they pay for.

“New Zealand landlords are under attack like they have never seen or felt before,” saith Newshub’s Duncan Garner.

“This is the most anti-landlord government probably in the history of our nation,” thundered property commentator Ashley Church.

Changes will be “unworkable and vicious”, said Mike Butler, spokesperson for the weirdly-named lobby group, Tenancies War.

And then, on Tuesday night, National Party leader Judith Collins accused the government of “bashing landlords”.

Righto. Let’s state this up-front – this is madness. Crazy talk. Nonsense. These four obviously-rather-invested individuals need to sit down, make themselves a cup of tea, find a chill-out playlist on Spotify and breathe. Dial back on the Chicken Little. The sun is still going to rise, talkback radio ain’t going anywhere.

These landlord lobbyists seem unconcerned with how things actually are, and what these changes might mean in the real world. Their argument seems to rest upon wild worst-case scenarios, extreme anecdotes about tenants from hell. Andrew Bruce of the Auckland Property Investors Association tells a lurid story about a renter who killed his neighbours’ dog, and who will supposedly become almost unevictable under the legislation. The inference from this commentary is that any softening of the legislation will see the nation’s tenants cut loose and revert to their innately feckless ways. You know, kicking holes in walls, baking meth, blasting neighbours with Beyoncé, strolling about in the nude and killing their pets. It’s just in their nature.

The condescending tone towards New Zealand’s millions of tenants is unmistakable. It’s also fucking offensive.

Modal, Ockham Residential’s new all-rental development in Mt Albert, Auckland (Photo: supplied)

I’m not anti-landlord, in fact I have been one for close to 20 years. The provision of quality rental accommodation is hugely important in any community. So is treating tenants with respect and dignity – as equals and not second-class citizens. It’s unfortunate that the good landlords out there – and there are plenty – are being lumped in with an entitled, self-anointed cabal prone to hyperbole. The likes of Tenancies War certainly don’t speak for me.

Four fast facts for our Landlord Lords to consider:

1. Our rental house “stock” ain’t great. It never really has been. Traditionally New Zealand houses have been cold, damp and draughty. The General Social Survey 2018 found 32% of people living in rentals could see their breath inside their own home. Thankfully, there have been some recent improvements. Good landlords have been proactive sorting insulation, heat pumps, half-decent curtains; legislation nudges the rest in the right direction.

2. The new legislation will limit rent rises to once a year. And excuse me, but what’s the problem here? Annual, biannual or even triannual rent reviews seem to work just fine in the commercial world.

3. New Zealand has some of the most pro-landlord tenancy rules in the developed world. The new act rightly recognises that termination without cause creates profound insecurity for tenants. Rental properties are financial investments for owners, but homes for tenants; this difference in perspective is rightly recognised by the new legislation. The vast majority of tenants act responsibly – why not provide security of tenure in line with Europe and the countries we like to compare ourselves with?

4. We’re fast approaching a point where more than half of us live in houses we don’t own. Indeed, we may already be there: while the home ownership rate across Aotearoa is 63%, down from the early ‘90s peak of 74%, those renting tend to be younger. They’re families. With kids. In Auckland, we’ve already soared past this tipping point. While good stats are hard to come by – shout out here to the 2018 census – the numbers we have show well over half of Auckland adults rent. Add their kids in and it’s likely more than a million Aucklanders live in homes they don’t own.

The Property Investors Federation and other fringe lobby groups need to get their heads around this. Tenants will very soon, if they’re not already, be a majority in this country. Quite aside from the realpolitik implications of this – treat tenants poorly now and you’ll reap the whirlwind in years to come – there’s a far more fundamental issue here. That is, what sort of country are we if we think it’s okay for our neighbours to live with the constant stress of insecure tenancies. This is no way to live.

It is a privilege to be a private landlord. And it comes with a responsibility to be decent, to treat tenants as you would like you and your whānau to be treated. It’s not hard. We’re members of a community, the fabled team of five million. Think of the people who saw us through Covid – the essential workers who harvested our veggies, worked our warehouses, stocked our supermarket shelves.

The people who teach my children, who clean our streets, who keep us safe, who will look after me when I’m sick, care for me when I’m old – many of these fellow New Zealanders live in rented accommodation. They are us. They deserve to put down their roots, make their home, have their kids settle into a school.

It’s a two-way street. As landlords, we’re getting the reward of what has historically been a very good investment in New Zealand. But in return, our properties become the homes of the people who pay to live in them.

An attitude adjustment is overdue for a certain caste of landlords who see their tenants in purely transactional terms, the field marked “income” in the spreadsheet. It should not be about Property Investment Masterclasses where a cheap suit babbles about leveraging, negatively gearing, staying cashflow-positive while making hay from now until the end of time. It is not about reducing tenants to “yields”.

For the millions of New Zealanders who live in a home they don’t own, their future happiness, security and stability should not depend on them being lucky enough to land a legendary landlord. There should be clear rules so no one is reliant upon the good graces of the master. Any legislation that reins in the lord bit of landlord is surely a good thing in the 21st century.

If you can’t follow the rules – if you can’t get your head around the fact that your tenants have much the same hopes and dreams that you do, that when they pay rent your house becomes their home – then it might be time to invest elsewhere. Clearly the responsibilities of a landlord are not for you.

You can always start a business. Make something. Create something. Build something. Employ someone. Contribute.

Step up. Aotearoa needs your initiative, ideas and innovation.


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