Urgent Government action needed to support renters’ human rights

An immediate freeze on rent increases could give renters some reprieve during the cost-of-living crisis says Te Kahui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission.

August 16, 2022

An immediate freeze on rent increases could give renters some reprieve during the cost-of-living crisis says Te Kahui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission. 

“Too many New Zealanders are sacrificing their fundamental human rights to pay the rent,” says Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt. 

“We’re very concerned that some students, low-income or single-wage families are having to make trade-offs between the right to adequate food and the right to a decent home” says Hunt.  

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the government implemented a temporary six-month freeze on rent increases to ease the pressure on renters. The Commission is suggesting the government re-instate a temporary freeze on rent increases and immediately increase the accommodation supplement to aid low-income renters.

“The government of the day has to ensure all New Zealanders can meet their basic living needs. The Cost of Living Payment doesn’t go far enough to address unaffordable rents faced by many low-income renters” says Mr Hunt.

The Commission says the increase to the accommodation supplement should ensure those on the lowest incomes pay no more than 30 per cent or more of their income (after tax) on housing.

Almost half of renters spent 30 per cent or more of their income (after tax) on housing in the year ended June 2020. Rent has also risen significantly faster than income and inflation over the past several years. 

Not only that, but the proportion of people renting in Aotearoa New Zealand is increasing. A third of New Zealanders and half the adult population now rent their homes.  

Vee Blackwood, the Human Rights Commission’s Housing Inquiry Manager says the current rental system is not designed for this growth in renters or the emergence of a permanent rental class. 

“Alongside these urgent measures, a systemic overhaul of the rental system is necessary to enable all New Zealanders to achieve their human right to a decent home grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” says Blackwood.  

“Looking historically, governments haven’t fulfilled their Te Tiriti o Waitangi responsibilities to ensure tangata whenua have equity of access to affordable rentals, and more broadly a rental system that reflects Māori cultural needs or aspirations. An overhaul of the rental system needs to address this,” says Blackwood. 

As part of its Housing Inquiry, the Commission is measuring progress on the right to a decent home. Data released so far confirms that renters are less likely to find their housing affordable than homeowners and have significantly worse housing quality. 

“We’d like to see the government re-evaluate what a fair rent system looks like in order to meet the human rights of tenants," says Blackwood.

This could also include safeguards such as improved tenure security, long-term limits on rent increases (unless the property has undergone significant improvements), and more transparency about the rent paid by previous tenants. 

“We’re pleased to see the Government’s announcement offering tax exemptions to developers offering long-term tenancy opportunities. Longer term tenancies such as 10-year leases will dramatically improve security of tenure, and help tenants build and maintain connections in their community.

“We encourage the Government to continue to explore other proposals that will re-shape the rental system and support renters’ right to a decent home,” says Blackwood.

The Human Rights Commission will later this month launch the next stages of its housing inquiry. 

“We want to hear from people about their experiences and their views on what a fairer housing system would look like, whether they are renters or landlords, homeowners or those struggling to find a place to call home,” says Blackwood.