Tenants 'too scared' to object to squalor

LIVING ROUGH: Porirua City councillor Euon Murrell wants rentals like this brought up to standard.
RHIANNON MCCONNELL
LIVING ROUGH: Porirua City councillor Euon Murrell wants rentals like this brought up to standard.

Water running down walls and gang members beating disgruntled tenants are just a few of the perils of private rentals in Cannons Creek.

Bill Hiku has seen a lot in his 15 years living in the Porirua suburb, but one of the worst was walking into a three-bedroom home and seeing the family living in just one bedroom because of water running down the walls of the other two.

"As soon as you open the front door you smell the mould. It gets worse as you walk in," he said.

When the tenants approached the landlord, they were told to put a towel down.

When asked why people would stay in such poor conditions, Hiku - who is chairman of the suburb's residents and ratepayers' association - said it came down to desperation.

"These people can't get into Housing New Zealand homes. They have nowhere else to live. It is a rock and a hard place.

"It becomes almost an insurmountable mountain. It's this fear of making waves and getting kicked out."

Fairfax Media attempted to talk with tenants about their situation, but all were afraid to go on the record because of repercussions.

"These people are stuck between a rock and an ocean, and, with the rock threatening to bash them on one side, they don't want to make waves," Hiku said.

He even knew of a landlord who used a gang member to keep his tenants in line.

"The gang member's role was pretty much to make sure everyone behaved and, if they didn't, he would intimidate them."

When one tenant complained about some work that needed to be done, the reply was a bashing at his front door.

Porirua City councillor Euon Murrell, a Real Estate Institute board member, said the bullying had to stop.

"When we are trying to fix child poverty and all that, there is a responsibility for landlords to make sure what they are providing is warm and healthy.

"They have to bring them up to a standard appropriate to today's living. Most people think these kinds of houses are owned by Housing New Zealand, but they aren't."

Murrell said he had spent time driving around Cannons Creek and found numerous properties needing urgent attention, including houses with rotting windows, rusty water running down the sides, and a home with plywood covering a metre-high hole on an outer wall.

He is committed to seeing something done.

"The problem is, there is no requirement I'm aware of that says they have to do anything.

"We are spending heaps of money trying to make this place better and we need some landlords to take responsibility, too."

One call is for standardised criteria that rental properties must meet. A trial warrant of fitness test held earlier this year found more than 90 per cent of tested rental homes failed inspection.

But Hiku did not feel a warrant of fitness would solve the problem. "It will drive the market rates up. It will cost more to set it up and police it than it would do for low-income families." 

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