A Tauranga mum whose family is on the verge of becoming homeless says she is being discriminated against by property managers and landlords because she has four children.
Stephanie Peeni, who has been searching for a rental for two months and has less than two weeks left in her current home, says she is being declined properties based on her family status.
She said she was making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
Peeni, a social media influencer, is frustrated over the situation.
Peeni and husband Nikora had applied for more than 15 properties during their search. Their children are aged 8, 4-year-old twins, and a 2-year-old.
Earlier this week she was told that her application for a four-bedroom home was unsuccessful because the owners did not want a family.
Peeni told the Bay of Plenty Times when applying for another property, she was told over the phone there was no way the owner would allow four children to live at the house.
"I got off the phone and cried. I felt defeated. They are discriminating against people with children," she said.
The family were looking for a four or three-bedroom home.
Reflecting on the experience brought her to the point of tears. She said she felt like a "failure as a mother" because she couldn't provide her kids with a stable home.
"We have two weeks left with a roof over our head and then I don't know. This is one of the most testing times," she said.
"I am at the lowest point. I am scared, my mental health is declining rapidly because we don't have a stable home. I don't know where to from here."
Peeni said she had been searching on a daily basis since finding out their landlord would be moving into their current rental property.
She had sent applications, family photos and descriptions of their family to property managers and landlords.
"We have incredible references, we pay rent on time. If they could come and see how well we keep our home, they would see we are incredible tenants," she said.
"But they just judge you off the face of having four young children."
Peeni said she was "heartbroken and horrified" when one person on social media suggested she used her maiden name when applying for properties so that managers and landlords wouldn't see her Māori surname.
She is aware of other people with similar stories — including ''women who have spent nights in their cars, who have stopped their husband and partners from coming to the viewings and have swapped their last name to a Pākehā last name," she said.
"It breaks my heart for those that are just trying to provide a basic human need. It still just shows how alive racism is in New Zealand."
This experience had opened her eyes as to how hard it was for some people trying to find a home, and she was determined to make a change.
"Seeing the severity and how big the problem is, my focus is to make a change and stop the discrimination."
Peeni said she had one plea for property managers and companies;
"Do not take on homes from landlords that are going to discriminate. Stick to your word, and if you don't discriminate don't take on homes where landlords discriminate."
If the family couldn't secure a rental in the next two weeks, Peeni said she would need to find temporary accommodation.
"We don't have family here in Tauranga. My next thing is staying in a motel with the children, my husband will be in Australia."
The Human Rights Commission website states a property owner or their agent who discriminates against people because of their race, age, sex, sexual orientation, family status, or disability risks breaking the law.
The commission received more than 25 complaints of unlawful discrimination on the ground of family status related to rentals between 2014 and 2018.
It received more than 20 complaints on the ground of race and colour and less than 10 complaints on the grounds of ethnic and national origins in that period.
A spokesperson said these complaints were progressed in various ways.
"In some circumstances, a complainant will simply be provided robust advice on how to progress with their issue. Other complaints may progress to early resolution and some complaints may end in full mediation."
About one in 10 complaints end up in an in-person mediation meeting, about 140 a year nationwide.
Anyone declined a property based on their family status could make a complaint of unlawful discrimination to the commission.
"Unlawful discrimination happens when a person is treated unfairly or less favourably than others in similar circumstances. The commission can help with advice and information and, if necessary, mediate their complaint."
Rental agents in Rotorua and Tauranga the Bay of Plenty Times spoke to said landlords could not discriminate against tenants for their family status and size.
"Unfortunately, we are aware of it happening to people. It's hard not to be," one said.
"With the housing shortage as it is we have lots of tenants who are applying for anything and everything they can afford and they do mention to us experiences they have had in dealing with other companies/landlords."
Another said he thought the industry had moved past that sort of thing.
"I didn't think people still considered big families a problem. There are houses around that are designed to have families of four, five or six," he said.
Some landlords were concerned about the "wear and tear", but he said the decision should be based on how families had cared for past rentals and up-to-date rental payments.
"Some owners don't want little kids in their houses because they worried about them marking the walls, or damaging the carpet. But if they have got good references, and can show that their kids are well behaved then it shouldn't be an issue."
Larger homes tended to be more expensive and harder to come by.
"There aren't many available, and most of the four-bedrooms are the newer places out in the new subdivisions.
"People are just getting more and more desperate in all honesty. They are desperate because there is not much around, and they are desperate for how much they are having to pay," he said.
Another property manager agreed.
"They are hard to come by and out of people's affordability. You are looking at $650-plus for a modern four-bedroom home. I am getting people ringing me all the time desperate for a home," he said.
He said he would often try to secure rentals for young families, because he understood the struggle, having a family of his own.
"If I see a lovely family that has three to four children, and everything stacks up with them then I will push for them."