Landlords and real estate chiefs have backed Government moves to freeze rents to help some of New Zealand's 1.5 million tenants who could be struggling financially.
Grant Robertson, Finance Minister, yesterday announced the freeze which has now been backed by Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King and Real Estate Institute chief executive Bindi Norwell.
But both questioned the end to no-cause 90-day tenancy terminations where landlords will be restricted in how they can evict tenants.
King said: "We think the rent freeze is fine. People losing their jobs and not being able to pay rent means losing a tenant and not being able to replace them is more likely than putting up the rent. Tenants are going to be worried about their homes, so it is a good idea to quell their fears in these very uncertain times."
But King challenged axing no-cause terminations: "Of there is a reason to end the tenancy, then landlords can still do this. It will mean, however, that we will need the co-operation of affected neighbours to provide proof if our tenants are being disruptive or antisocial. It will be interesting to see how bored people forced to stay home for four weeks will get along."
Norwell, of REINZ, said that in the current environment, the rent freeze was a sensible and moral step.
"The Government has already outlined that the strict Alert Level 4 measure means that in the coming months a number of people are likely to lose their jobs. To have to deal with a potential rent increase at this time could be incredibly stressful for a tenant to have to deal with, so we welcome the Government's announcement around this particular measure," Norwell said.
Landlords who had already spoken to tenants around a rental increase in the previous few weeks would be unable to hike prices, "but we will work through what this means for these situations as the finer details of the announcement become available. In the interim, we would encourage landlords, tenants and property managers to keep the lines of communication open because some rent may be better than no rent".
But Norwell was less supportive about removing the 90-day no-cause termination.
"We are disappointed that this has been announced because the wider property industry has made its views quite clear over the past few months. However, we understand they are trying to do their best by tenants in these trying circumstances," she said.
REINZ would seek further clarification about what the changes meant for landlords and tenants who had already issued or been issued with 90-day notices, she said.
One landlord fumed about the changes, saying: "I still have a mortgage to pay. Where is the protection for the landlord? What happens in the event of unpaid rent. Does it have to be paid eventually?"
He still has a mortgage to pay and said his only income apart from that was superannuation "which barely dents some of my plethora of bills, rates, insurance, power, water etc. By providing rental properties I am providing a service. I will possibly go broke. Where is the support for me the 'evil' landlord?"
Stephen Dacombe-Bird, principal of Quinovic Property Management in Wellington's Vivian St, said that sector would suffer a number of disruptions.
"The most obvious is likely to be the flow of rent where tenants are unable to make their payments because of job losses or other reasons. We will be working with them to understand their situations," he said, but the goal would be to keep them in their places until the national pandemic situation improves.
Landlords should talk to their banks if they had issues with rent, he said.
The Level 4 meant the business would not be able to inspect properties for at least four weeks "and will rely on tenants to advise us of essential maintenance requirements".
Nor would prospective tenants be able to be shown properties.
"Similarly, it will be impossible to effectively exit tenants from their expired tenancies and some agreements may need to be extended to meet the lockdown requirements," Dacombe-Bird said.