Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Concern over rent system changes

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Thousands of state and private tenants behind in their rent will soon be under more pressure, claim critics of a new system designed to cut the time taken to resolve disputes.

Housing Minister Nick Smith today announced changes to Ministry of Justice Tenancy Tribunal processes, reducing landlords' wait for rent dispute resolutions from about 12 days to two.

A spokesman said that would help tenants and landlords locked in rent disputes, did not favour one party over the other and instead of having to wait for mediation, resolution could be via a confirmation conversation.

But some fear Fast Track could mean the burgeoning numbers of struggling tenants come under increased pressure, as rents rise in all 30 Auckland suburbs surveyed by property managers Crockers over the past four years.

Margaret O'Neill, a volunteer at the Tenants Protection Association in Auckland, said Fast Track would not give tenants enough time to dispute issues and many might not even have time to receive notifications. They might have good reasons for not paying the rent on time and the system would discriminate against them, she said.

"Sometimes the mail goes astray and they don't even get a [rent arrears] notice. Sometimes they don't have enough money on their phones and don't respond to a text or they might have a million and one other problems and other debts,'' she said.

Initially only certain landlords will have access to the system - big real estate agencies with huge property management divisions and Housing New Zealand. Those organisations are responsible for the majority of rent arrears demands.

However, the service will eventually become available for applicants.

A spokesman for Dr Smith said Fast Track will be rolled out from Saturday following a successful Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment trial.

The trial was tested on three high volume Auckland clients. One landlord said that included Barfoot & Thompson.

"We sought to test that applicants and parties who had a repayment agreement in place about their rent arrears could formalise their agreement with an order within 48 hours and without the need for mediation,'' the ministry said.

"Test results showed that 90 per cent of those Fast Track applications had an order back to applicants within 48 hours. The trial proved that quicker results could be gained for parties in arrears cases and our mediators could be freed up for dealing with more genuine dispute situations.''

Landlords and property managers praised the system, saying it was cheaper than the old one. Time was saved on scheduling, paperwork, phone conversations and there was a minimum involvement of other government agencies, the feedback said.

"In our opinion the Fast Track process would be a very valuable addition of a government service and moving with the times of customers needing more flexibility utilising all avenues of technology,'' the ministry said.

Dr Smith said Fasttrack predicted widespread benefits for all.

"Once fully implemented, there will be widespread benefits for tenants and landlords from a more efficient and effective tenancy dispute resolution process.''

Tenancy disputes

* 91% of applications filed by landlords

* 76% of those are for rent arrears

* Amount of rent rarely disputed

* New Fast Track rent enforcement system tested last year

* 90% of cases could be processed within 2 days

* Full introduction due around mid-2014

[Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment]

- NZ Herald

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