Scapegoating is a tried, tested and true method of obtaining power in a democracy. It will keep a reforming government in power for a wee-while too, especially in a country which has elected just two one-term Governments in 85 years. The first three years just isn’t enough time for your policies to succeed or spectacularly fail, the second term might see a wheel fall off but is rarely terminal in New Zealand. It tends to take three terms for those who blamed the scapegoats to realise they’re now the victims.

 

Things may be a bit different this time around. There certainly has never been a regime with such a horrendous gaff-to-govern ratio in my lifetime. Had the most recent government not eaten all its friends, they may have survived longer than three years, but they were hardly a reforming government. What little reform the single MP Act Party achieved was done uphill, with handbrake applied and anchor down right up until National decided they were the best ideas they’d never had.

 

The three-headed monstrosity has scapegoated very well in its first term:

  • The holders of unpopular opinions (121,423 wasted votes cast in 2017)
  • Licensed firearms owners (250,000)
  • Immigrants (145,800 arrived in 2018)
  • Taranaki oil extractors (3,000 in 2018)
  • Landlords (130,964 in 2017)
  • Farmers (52,785 in 2016)
  • Employers (534,930 in 2018)

 

They’ll need to be careful not to blame so many people that they run out of voters. The problem with scapegoating is that wreaking vengeance upon them doesn’t fix the ills of which they are accused. Quite the opposite. As the indigenous population of Zimbabwe discovered, scapegoating one group on the behalf of your supporters turns voters into victims.

 

It never ends well.

 

My husband and I are both in our mid 30s and have both been life-long renters. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve lived in some real shitholes, like the subsiding house which required concrete blocks under one end of my bed so I could sleep horizontally. Being 25 and earning a grand salary of $32,000 I was quite happy to live there for $65 a week.

Before moving to Meadowbank where we have lived for a year, we resided for four years in a Forrest Hill unit without insulation. Unsurprisingly it got cold, damp and mouldy during the winter. Logically we employed appropriate layers of clothing, a heater, dehumidifier and good old Spray ‘n Wipe. At the end of 2018, the landlord gave us 90 days notice to move out. Like many landlords in his situation, meeting the insulation standards made a full renovation much more appealing. Thousands of dollars later, JP and I moved to a nicer home but were financially hammered. We survived, but I cannot fathom how low-income families with children are better off moving house than living in a cheap uninsulated rental. 

Fortunately we found our latest home just prior to the ban on charging letting fees to tenants. If we’re going to be honest, it would be far more accurate to describe that policy as compulsory laundering of letting fees. A letting fee of $485 vs. $5 more rent each week makes tenancies lasting two years more expensive following the letting fee ban.

 

Passed last year, further scapegoating of landlords using the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act will begin to impact tenants from July 2021. Every rental must comply within 90 days of a new or renewed tenancy agreement. In the short-term, don’t be surprised to see a lift in two year lease agreements to minimise the pain for both parties, however ducking this avalanche of expenses can’t go on forever. All private rentals must comply by July 2024.

 

Here are a few of the proposed changes (commentary in italics)

 

    • Remove the ability for the landlord to end the tenancy with no cause. The new legislation will provide a range of reasons the landlord must specify including anti-social behaviour.
  • Increasing the risk involved in renting will incentivise higher rents as an additional form of insurance should things turn sour. Yes, landlords should have insurance for their investment but they can’t insure against increased premiums the accompany insurance claims. If you’re young, poor, brown or have children finding a private rental just got a lot harder.
    •  
    • Ensure that tenants can add minor fittings such as brackets to secure furniture and appliances against earthquake risk, baby proof the property, install visual fire alarms and doorbells, and hang pictures.
  • I’m loath to use a term such as ‘gay white male privilege’ however I’m reasonably confident getting offered three properties on the same day is exclusively a GWM privilege. I do know that some landlords ask if you intend to have children. My current home still bears the scars of baby-proofing cupboards etc. I don’t care but if I did, repairing ripped paint and removing glue damage throughout the home isn’t cheap.
    •  
    • Prohibit the solicitation of rental bids by landlords and limit rent increases to once every twelve months.
  • Why shouldn’t a landlord and tenant freely negotiate the level of rent? It is a symptom of a market regulatory bubble that won’t correct, not the cause of it. Limiting rent increases to once a year makes forecasting the necessary level far more difficult and landlords aren’t going to err on the side of low.

 

A number of Healthy Home Standards were also included in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act, but I’m mindful of compiling an encyclopaedia of sections, subsections and mundane detail on top of a 1000 word opinion piece. I suspect this website is also too classy to include a Housewives Illustrated photoshoot to maintain your interest in percentages for another 20 minutes. However, we’ve barely peered beyond the impact these law changes will have.

A healthy home is bloody useless if you can’t afford to rent it and next week I’ll expand upon the catastrophe Labour is planning to inflict upon its own support base should they be re-elected.

 

What I would like you to consider in the meantime is just how bad things are getting for Labour voters victims now, despite how mildly the scapegoating of landlords has been up until now.

 

  • The definition of homeless is so broad as to be useless. It includes those without shelter, in ‘temporary accommodation’, sharing a dwelling with the usual residents or living in dilapidated housing (under my earlier example, I was homeless for six months). That figure of 41,000 is useful for an opposition party but bloody hard to fix when you’re spending $100 million putting the homeless in motels (where they are still defined as being homeless)
  • Prior to winter 2018, Labour promised to provide shelter to all homeless within four weeks. 
  • Auckland rents went up an average of 15% from 2015 to 2019.
  • The waiting list for social housing has increased 142% in two years, from 6,000 to 14,500. That isn’t the number of people waiting; it is the number of households. In the same period, only 3,300 social housing places have been created (my source doesn’t differentiate between those vacated by moving the current residents on and those newly constructed).