Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mike Butler: Lessons in bungled evictions

What lessons can be learned from Housing New Zealand’s bungled attempt to evict three women from their Lower Hutt houses? Despite five courts ruling in Housing New Zealand’s favour in a battle that spanned more than two years and cost         $1,007, 670, the government landlord has had a change of heart and decided to let the women stay.

Five tenants, including Robyn Winther, Huia Tamaka, and Billy Taylor, were handed 90-day eviction notices after a violent incident involving Mongrel Mob members in Farmer Crescent in February 2009. Three male gang members had allegedly terrorised a woman and her children in their home, leading to the arrest of 10 people.

Two tenants moved before their notices expired. But Billy Taylor, Robyn Winther and Huia Tamaka appealed to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the orders overturned. The Tenancy Tribunal ruled against them so they went to the district court, High Court, Court of Appeal, and finally to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

The Human Rights Review Tribunal found Housing New Zealand did not discriminate against the three tenants. However, the tribunal expected Housing New Zealand to reassess its position before evicting them, since there had been no further anti-social behaviour over the past 2 1/2 years.

For those not familiar with a residential tenancy agreement, the usual terms of termination of a non-fixed-term tenancy is 21 days for the tenant and 90 days for the landlord. It is the time period required to terminate the contract and does not involve a breach of the contract.

Since all criminal charges against the 10 people arrested were later dismissed because a key witness refused to give evidence (surprise, surprise), the Farmer Crescent mobsters believed the eviction notices related to the unsuccessful charges, and argued that the women and children have been victimised and were being held responsible for the actions of male gang members.

They should have been reminded that every residential tenancy agreement requires the tenant to “not disturb the neighbours or the landlord’s other tenants” and to “not use the property for any unlawful purpose”. The Farmer Crescent mobsters just could not cope when Housing New Zealand began to enforce the terms of their tenancy agreements.

I concede that state house areas are significantly better run that they were 10 years ago -- the houses are better maintained, the tenants better behaved -- so that the worst riff raff sometimes occupy the badly managed properties of newby private landlords who don’t know what they are doing.

So while I recognize that Housing New Zealand chief executive Lesley McTurk has been morally persuaded by the Human Rights Review Tribunal to recognise that two years of good behaviour by the Farmer Crescent evictees is an indication that they may have redeemed themselves, and while I am grateful that no court was stupid enough to rule against the 90-day termination, a few questions remain.

Why does the state landlord rent to people who associate with criminal gangs?

Why is it assumed that people who have never worked have a right to state-funded housing when they won’t accept the responsibilities that go along with it?

In this age of information sharing among government agencies, and when it is obvious that the women and children living in the state house are funded by the domestic purposes benefit, how is it that bludger boyfriends can not only freely live in these houses, and off these women, but also will damage the property and intimidate the neighbours?

How is it that every street in state house areas has a tinnie house or two that is supplied by the gang controlling the area and are operated with apparent immunity?

Why is there an open legal aid chequebook for people who have lived off the state all their lives, giving them the freedom to waste the time of every court in the land in a bid to shield them from facing their own responsibilities?

Why does Housing New Zealand continue to relocate the bad tenants they evict? What’s wrong with a policy of never re-housing them? With such a policy there would be some serious good behaviour breaking out in neighbourhoods across New Zealand.

Farmer Crescent is undergoing a major renovation. Twenty-seven homes on the corner of High St and Farmer Crescent have been demolished, with 61 more expected to be bulldozed in Farmer Crescent by December.

In all the column centimeters printed on this saga, a curious comment appeared from civil liberties expert Tony Ellis, who said that "At the end of the day, Housing New Zealand has done the decent thing and let them stay. They have established a legal precedent so everybody wins, though it may have been quite traumatic for the women."

Therefore, I guess the next step is the round of “hurt feelings” court cases on behalf of the traumatized reprieved evictees, and tens of thousands of dollars in compensation.


Ray said...

Something to do with colour I suspect. My cynical nature tells me that had it been me served an eviction notice, it would be enforced on the due date, probably with police assistance were I to be a bit tardy.
Your last para is probably spot on.

jh said...

Your why questions are the answer to the left-wing bloggers whys re why (for example) why does the spirit level hypothesis not quite add up.

Anonymous said...

My interpretation of this fiasco is that it is now imposable to evict in nz now com on government show some leadership and change the law.

Anonymous said...

Actually the women your talking about are study Law at Victoria University - and although they were related to the gang members - they had no choice and were given the houses. It was Housing new zealand that grouped them in the same housing area.

Its not their fault that they are relatives are Gang members. Every individual makes a choice.

Kevin Donnelly said...

Why two sets of laws, common law and additional laws for tenants?