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'Doesn't have to be this way' - Stretched rental market labelled a 'disgrace'

A renters' advocacy group is calling the current state of the housing market a "disgrace", something highlighted by cases of flats acknowledged by the renters as substandard. 

One of the bedrooms in a flat at 21 Marion St, Wellington. Source: Supplied

Most of the changes brought in by the Healthy Homes standards, passed into law last year, aren't legally required in new tenancies until next year.  

Yesterday a Wellington flat with broken windows, bedrooms with only three walls and curtains instead of doors raised concerns as to the standard of rentals in the country. 

Wellington student Isaac Kirkwood told 1 NEWS it was cheap, central and functional. 

"We're in a difficult situation at the moment because student accommodation needs to be cheap but to make it cheap, standards need to somewhat be dropped," he said. 

Advocacy group Renters United is concerned about those dropping standards, particularly in Wellington where another renter told 1 NEWS you "take what you can get". 

Zoe Woodfield says finding flats advertised that don't appear to be up to standard isn't surprising but is disappointing. 

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"There are many rooms in Wellington that are being rented out for extortionate amounts which are mould-ridden and damp," she told 1 NEWS today. 

"Tenants are so desperate that they'll pay those amounts and often won't take the landlord to the Tribunal, so the rooms keep being rented out." 

She wants the Government to take "bold changes" and make a difference, saying: "The way our housing market is right now is a disgrace." 

Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams says they've worked to improve housing standards with changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, including the Healthy Homes standards. 

"All tenants deserve warm, dry and safe accommodation," she says. 

"Landlords of rental properties need to comply with all relevant building, tenancy and health and safety legislation, making sure properties must meet all legal requirements before being rented out." 

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There's an understandable sense of resignation from renters, who settle for potentially substandard properties, Woodfield says. 

She says the rental market has "been allowed to run rampant" by the Government. 

"And for the past 20 years that has meant that rents have skyrocketed while incomes have stagnated," Woodfield says.  

"That's given renters the idea that this is the way it will always be. But it doesn't have to be this way." 

National Party's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis wants landlords to step up their game. 

"My advice to all landlords is that you’re providing a home for human beings, which comes with significant responsibilities, so don’t just sit back and wait for complaints," she says. 

"Know what’s required by law and do the right thing without being asked." 

On its side, Tenancy Services' Steve Watson says its investigative team does act proactively, but it also relies on reports from tenants or third parties. 

It doesn't have to be your home for you to report it if you have concerns. That means if you view an advertised flat and have concerns, you can report it to the tenancy compliance and investigations team without having to move in first, Watson says. 

One of the bedrooms in a flat at 21 Marion St, Wellington. Source: Supplied

While most of the Healthy Homes standards aren't legally required in new tenancies until next July, there is a small change coming into force next week. 

"From 1 December 2020, landlords must include a statement of their current level of compliance with the healthy homes standards in most new or renewed tenancy agreements," Watson says.  

"This will allow tenants to be aware of the current level of compliance of a rental property prior to signing a tenancy agreement." 

Yesterday 1 NEWS spoke to two property management companies. Both declined to comment on any measures they took before agreeing to take on management of a company, including whether there were any checks to ensure it met legal standards before letting. 

Woodfield suggests a rental warrant of fitness system, to ensure rentals are quality-checked before tenants sign on. 

"It would also distinguish from the landlords who genuinely take care in their property and maintain it well, and those who use properties as a cash grab at the expense of the tenants living in mouldy and poorly maintained flats," she says. 

The average rent for a single bedroom in Wellington, averaged from the median rents across flats, houses and apartments, is $343.95. 

The student allowance for a single person under 24 years old, without children and living away from their parents is $237.90. 

News tips or more information? Email Breanna Barraclough or