The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is monitoring Kāinga Ora’s responses to antisocial behaviour by tenants, according to leaked advice to housing minister Megan Woods. 

An April 19 HUD ministerial briefing, seen by BusinessDesk, said: "You (the minister) have set your expectation that Kāinga Ora ensure its policies, procedures and processes are sound to respond to tenant antisocial behaviour."

The briefing noted there had been several media reports of antisocial behaviour involving Kāinga Ora tenants. 

It said Kāinga Ora’s customer satisfaction survey for the December 2021 quarter showed perceptions of neighbourhood safety were at 70%, compared with 66% in 2020 and 70% in 2019. 

"HUD will continue to monitor the steps Kāinga Ora takes to respond to your expectations ... to ensure sound operational policies, procedures and processes ... to support the quiet enjoyment of tenants and their neighbours affected by antisocial and problematic behaviours."

Rent arrears

The briefing also noted that Kāinga Ora was significantly behind its targets to arrange repayments of rent arrears. 

Only 52% of tenants with missed rent payments had repayment arrangements in place, against a 75% full-year target. 

Kāinga Ora's director for practice and customer contact, Shannon Gatfield, said in a statement that the agency had paused debt recovery as a response to covid-19. This was replaced with a welfare approach to support tenants.

“As covid-19 restrictions eased and we entered a more stable environment, we have been able to resume debt recovery processes,” she said.

Healthy Homes compliance

The HUD briefing also said Kāinga Ora’s compliance with the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act was at risk. All New Zealand rental properties must comply with the new standards by June next year. 

“The risks remain high for reaching 100% compliance by June 2023 with nearly half of Kāinga Ora houses needing to be made compliant in the final year," the briefing said. 

Kāinga Ora had flagged cost as a growing issue.

A spokesperson for the HUD said Kāinga Ora had the same obligations to comply with the new standards as private landlords. 

If a Kāinga Ora home did not meet the standards, the tenant could apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for a work order or a money order. 

Compensation could also be awarded to the tenant for any losses, damage, stress, humiliation and inconvenience suffered. 

Financial penalties up to $7,200 could be awarded against the landlord, which was usually awarded to the tenant, the spokesperson said.

Lack of safety

Social Services and Community select committee member Karen Chhour (ACT) said Kāinga Ora was failing to deal with antisocial tenants. 

“We’ve had elderly couples that have had to actually be removed from their Kāinga Ora home and moved because they don’t feel safe in the community anymore.“

Chhour said one tenant was advised to spend the day in the local library, after feeling unsafe because of men drinking in a communal lounge outside her bedroom. 

“Well, 24 hours later, she was raped in her bedroom.”

She alleged she had seen the problem up close: "I have a family member who went through that, had a gang member next door to them and they got robbed." 

Despite several complaints, no action was taken, she said. 

Chhour said the Kāinga Ora’s "sustaining tenancies" policy simply moved problem tenants from place to place instead of evicting them. 

"We're just moving the problem to a new community."

This could squeeze out more deserving people altogether, she said. 

"So, you might have someone in need in the community that's on their housing waiting list, and bumped down for these people that have to be moved because of anti-social behaviour.

"We need to be tougher on the ones that are just taking advantage of the system," she said.

Lawyer and advocate Adina Thorn said she had been contacted by dozens of public housing residents as well as nearby neighbours and private landlords about antisocial behaviour in Kāinga Ora properties.

This began after she spoke up about the issue in the media last year. 

“It’s a landslide of people. They’re everywhere. They’re in Christchurch, they’re in Glendowie, they’re in Auckland CBD.”

These contacts indicated that little was being done about the problem and that evictions were rare. 

“What I have not heard from anyone is ‘my abusive neighbour has been moved on for antisocial behaviour’,” she said. 

Kāinga Ora’s 2019-23 statement of intent included the aim that “our public housing customers feel safe and secure in their homes and communities”.

Thorn questioned how Kāinga Ora monitored its progress against that statement of intent.

Relocations

Gatfield said the experience had shown that when disruptive tenants were relocated, most took the opportunity to make a fresh start. "We see positive results.”

If a disruptive tenant was willing to be relocated, it could be done without serving them any notices, she said. Otherwise, they could be compelled to relocate using the Residential Tenancies Act.

It was rarely necessary to resort to the eviction of tenants, Gatfield said. 

“It’s important to keep in mind that eviction is a specific process involving the Tenancy Tribunal which occurs only if a person refuses to leave the property after a tenancy is ended.”

She acknowledged that disruptive behaviour could cause highly stressful and unacceptable conditions for neighbours. 

“While our first approach is to support a change in behaviour, we have many other tools in our toolbox, including breach and warning notices.”

Kāinga Ora policy

Kāinga Ora's internal practices in dealing with problem tenants are in large part framed by its 2021 sustaining tenancies framework, and its 2021 disruptive behaviour policy. 

It acknowledges that problem tenants often have nowhere else to go except the streets.

The sustaining tenancies framework stated that Kāinga Ora aimed "to avoid evictions and exits into homelessness at all times". 

The agency recognised it had obligations to its customers and their neighbours, whether they were Kāinga Ora tenants or not, and the wider community.

In defining what sustaining tenancies meant, the policy stated that it included "never suspending tenants". In the past, if a tenant was suspended, this meant they were ineligible for state housing for up to a year.  

The policy said Kāinga Ora will respond promptly to any disputes including neighbourhood issues or tenant-to-tenant issues. 

Where disputes could not be resolved, they could be referred to the Kāinga Ora office of the complaints commissioner.

Kāinga Ora's disruptive behaviour policy applied to disruptive or "antisocial behaviour" by legal tenants, residents and tenants' visitors. 

Although the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 allowed Kāinga Ora to start eviction proceedings for damage or assault, the agency will not use that provision except in "extreme circumstances". 

The policy divided disruptive behaviour into three categories, with the most serious being "dangerous or severe disruptive behaviour" that posed a risk to the safety and security of others and could lead to police charges. 

Examples include drug production and supply, acts of violence, persistent intimidation against neighbours and contractors, and threats to kill. 

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020 gave social housing providers, including Kāinga Ora, the right to transfer tenants to different social housing if "the transfer is necessary or desirable for any reason" and "the other housing is appropriate for the tenant’s housing".