Today, phase two of the new tenancy law reforms comes into effect. And hallelujah for that.
Tenants are now free to hang pictures, put up shelves, even potentially paint a wall, with or without their landlord’s permission, and can’t be moved on without a justifiable reason. If the property owner wants to sell, they’ll need to give 3 months’ notice and follow up with an actual sale. Fixed-term tenancies roll over into periodic unless there’s a formal arrangement made, etc.
The Spinoff has a cheat-sheet on the swathe of new rules here, which stipulate, in short, for more security and dignity of tenure. They’re a small step towards enabling tenants in New Zealand to live as adults in the housing they pay so handsomely for.
To begrudge us that would be a patronising act of bad faith.
It’s not just that as renters in this country, we pay more, proportionally, of our incomes for shelter than homeowners do, and for a comparatively lesser quality of housing too. It’s that often we’re forced to live within a landlord’s sentimental attachment to the past or within their fixed idea of a property’s value based on private investment returns on a spreadsheet.
When you can’t make the ‘house’ you live in a ‘home’, you can’t take ownership for it. When the rug could be pulled from under your feet at any moment, it’s hard not to live as a transient (why prune the roses when you may not see them bloom?), even if you’re lucky enough to clock up the seasons or even years in one place.
To find, apply and be accepted for a suitable new abode, packing up house and moving a family is a massive, stressful undertaking. Extending that period out from 42 to 63-90 days makes that just a little more humane. While the ‘no cause’ clause will mean fewer renters’ lives are at the mercy of a property owner’s whim and the vicissitudes of the market.
With home-ownership rates the lowest they’ve been for 70 years and soaring house prices ($700,000 – the median cost of a house in Napier and Hastings now) ensuring the privilege will only concentrate further into fewer, wealthier hands, long-term/life-long renters across the spectrum (families, older folk, young professionals) will increasingly become the norm.
Our rental system – designed in the 1980s when social housing was abundant, home-ownership high and renters of private properties were mostly transient workers or young, unmarried folk – is not only out of step with the times, for too long it’s been out of line.
Landlords who acknowledge and relate to their tenants as living, breathing human beings, no less deserving of dignity than themselves, do all this already without the law – they are amenable to their tenants making their house a home; they give reasonable notice with fair rationale; they’re willing to negotiate a workable arrangement.
Yes, there’s always the risk of signing up a no-good tenant, just as there is always the chance your landlord is an arsehole. You can’t mitigate social risk completely. But where there’s mutual respect, there can be room for mutual responsibility.