Church launches tenants' advocacy service

A slow process: Elizabeth Ashby checks through the photos they took to the Tenancy Tribunal. Not everything is fixed yet.
A SLOW PROCESS: Elizabeth Ashby checks through the photos she took to the Tenancy Tribunal. Photo: Michael Cropp.

By Michael Cropp for The Press

Church leaders concerned that tenants are getting a raw deal in Christchurch are launching an advocacy service.

Lyndon Rogers, who works in the Anglican Church’s social justice unit, said renters were having a hard time proving earthquake damage and expected wear and tear was not their fault.

To assist, the church is launching the Record Your Rental programme, where volunteers take photos showing the state of houses before tenants move in. Photos will be stored in a secure online database to provide an objective archive.

The first training for volunteers was held this week.

Rogers said the photos provided important documentation that would ensure fairness if a dispute went to the Tenancy Tribunal.

“Without the evidence they can’t make their case in the [tribunal],” he said.

The social justice unit last year worked with several other agencies to put together the Paper Walls report, which focused on rental housing in New Zealand.

It showed people were unable to challenge their landlords because they often did not haveevidence.

The report also showed “landlords [are] raising costs without raising standards of housing”, Rogers said.

There was an “increasing perception that housing is an investment rather than a home”, he said.

Jolyon White, the Anglican social justice enabler, said “one of the messages I would like to send to landlords is that if you can’t afford to have a warm, dry rental property, then you can’t afford to have a rental property.”

Tenants Protection Association of Christchurch encourages landlords and tenants to undertake a visual pre-inspection and keep written records, but said this did not always happen.

When Elizabeth Ashby, 23, moved into a new flat in Bryndwr at the start of this year, she had problems with rodents, leaking sewers, a broken oven and faulty lighting.

The six flatmates took photos and raised their concerns with the landlord. When the landlord did not address the issues, they went to go to the Tenancy Tribunal.

Ashby believed the tribunal decision went in their favour because of the photos.

It was difficult for tenants to go to the tribunal, she said.

“You need a big paper trail and evidence.

“If someone had moved in who just didn’t have an awareness of their rights or the time to deal with it because they work full time, they wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.”

Tenants Protection Association educator and adviser Lisa Coulter said educating people about their rights is part of their work.