What a letdown it is to see yet another biased ‘reporting’ against landlords. This time by the vaunted Fair Go.
On Monday 10th October, it aired Mould up the walls, water pouring down – some renters still battle for a healthy home, ostensibly to expose wrongdoings in the rental sector. The piece lacks balance, drives further division, contains falsehoods and, in our view, falls short of the Broadcasting Standards.
Housing quality has been an entrenched issue in New Zealand for generations. That is not in dispute. And those in the business of providing rental accommodations should be held to a higher standard if for no other reason than the provision generates revenue. We continue to support the Healthy Homes Standards and work with government agencies and industry stakeholders to promote awareness and develop better pathways for landlords and property managers to comply. Our alignment with the Human Rights Commission’s view that all New Zealanders have a right to decent housing, irrespective of whether they own or rent their homes, is the primary driver of our work on rental housing quality. Given the critical nature of the problem, it is radical collaboration across all interest groups that is called for, not further social division driven by the trite and Dickensian characterisation that those who are landlords are only capable of being greedy, cunning and scrupulous. We are disappointed by Fair Go’s decision to take the easy road to the latter.
The specifics of our complaint:
Biased reporting and no balance
The one concession at 4:05 that ‘most landlords are great’ pales in comparison to Fair Go’s editorial decision to feature only renters, their advocates, problematic properties and non-complying landlords in the entire 9:53 piece. Cursory curations do not make for accurate summaries. The ‘reality’ as presented by Fair Go is warped. We do not doubt that its production team has the resources and capability to feature landlords and advocates for balance. Yet it chose not to. Even if it had no interest in the landlord’s perspective, soliciting input from government agencies such as Tenancy Services or its compliance and investigations team would have allowed viewers to appreciate the true extent of how unhealthy rental properties are across the country.
The segment demonstrates a strong bias against landords when it repeatedly states, without qualification, that renters fear eviction or are evicted simply for complaining about the conditions of their homes. We do not question any individual’s lived experience or genuinely held belief. But we are alarmed by Fair Go’s failure to state that a landlord terminating a tenancy under these circumstances would likely breach either section 54 (retaliatory notice) or section 60AA (termination without grounds) of the Residential Tenancies Act. And this is to say nothing of section 45, which, among other things, requires landlords to comply with the Healthy Homes Standards. In doing so, Fair Go promotes false and damaging messages to renters that they have no agency over their living environments and to landlords who flaunt the law that they could continue doing so with no consequences.
1.”Termination” and “Eviction” are not the same thing
The segment consistently uses the words evict or evicting when it should have used terminate or termination (we do not know whether this is the case of deliberate sensationalisation or mere ignorance). A landlord is not a bailiff; he can only terminate a tenancy but not evict a renter. Phraseologies aired, such as ‘evicted by the landlord’ or ‘eviction notice from the landlord’, are falsehoods and should be retracted.
2. Ill health is not an acceptable exemption to the Healthy Homes Standards
We are particularly disturbed when 7:54 into the segment, Gill Higgins all but states that a landlord could avoid compliance by citing ill health. One only needs to refer to the Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Regulations 2019 to see that ill health does not fall within any accepted exemptions.
3. There are checks and balances to the Healthy Homes Standards regime
Fair Go has allowed one of its interviewees to characterise the Healthy Homes Standards regime as lacking in checks and balances. That is incorrect. Tenancy Services’ Compliance and Investigations Team (that actively audits landlords and property managers) and the Tenancy Tribunal (that presides over tenancy disputes) are the checks and balances. To cast doubt on a legitimate regulatory regime built on submissions and inputs from various interest groups (including renters) suppresses trust, drives division and is a disservice to the rental sector.
4. It is unlawful for landlords to terminate a tenancy simply because the tenant has complained
To repeat anecdotal accounts of tenants being ‘evicted’ or fearing ‘eviction’ simply for complaining with no qualification (see above) perpetuates the falsehood that landlords do and get away with unlawful terminations. They shouldn’t, and they don’t. Tenants receiving an illegal termination notice should make all efforts to complain to the Tenancy Tribunal.
The indecency that comes with profiting from someone else’s misery should and must be called out. Fair Go has been the leading voice in that space, driving positive social change. We regret to see that, in this instance, it has fallen short of its mission.
A complaint has been made under the Broadcasting Act. We encourage any reader who shares our concerns to make a similar formal complaint to TVNZ before 7th November 2022 by going to https://corporate.tvnz.co.nz/contact/make-a-formal-complaint/. We have partially prepopulated the complaints form to help streamline your process: