Post-disaster rent controls proposed

By Heather McCracken

Demolition of the earthquake damaged Water's Edge Apartments on Tidal View Road.
Demolition of the earthquake damaged Water's Edge Apartments on Tidal View Road.

The Human Rights Commission has called for the Government to consider rent-control measures following major natural disasters, and a cross-party accord on the rights of New Zealanders to adequate housing.

They are among 33 recommendations in a report on human rights in the Canterbury earthquakes recovery, released by the commission yesterday.

It calls for a range of housing measures, including more urgent temporary housing in Christchurch, a housing Warrant of Fitness for all rental homes, and a change in tenancy law to give renters more notice when forced to move out.

The report also calls for adequate funding for mental health and psychological issues for earthquake-affected communities.

Chief commissioner David Rutherford said the earthquakes represented New Zealand's greatest contemporary human rights challenges.

He said people must be put at the heart of the recovery, and a natural disaster was no excuse for human rights to be ignored.

"Most New Zealanders may not see it in those terms, but we all recognise the situations of those still living in broken homes, fighting to resolve insurance claims, or struggling under the strain of financial hardship."

Mr Rutherford said progress had been made but more could be done.

"We are now seeing high levels of psychological harm caused by the stress of community dislocation, financial distress, unresolved insurance claims, and poor or insecure housing.

"Rights to property, housing and participation in decision-making have also become major issues."

The report said issues around housing affordability, habitability and the right to security of housing were the core human rights issues arising from the earthquakes.

In particular, the reduction in housing stock led in a dramatic rise in rental prices, and demand for social housing and temporary and emergency accommodation has increased markedly.

In one case study, a family who were still paying a mortgage on their own damaged home described being forced to move several times as landlords hiked the rent.

The commissions recommendations have already been rejected by Act leader John Banks, who said the people of Christchurch wanted less bureaucracy, not more.

"The do-gooder Human Rights Commission report suggests that more government planning would solve the problem that current planning creates," he said.

Mr Banks said housing affordability was an issue of supply and demand, and could not be solved by "more planning, more rules, rent controls, changing tenure in residential tenancies or political party accords".

- APNZ

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