Family-friendly renting

Over the weekend, Stuff.co.nz published a story titled “The Baby or the House” about how more and more young Auckland couples who want to start a family are putting it off because it’s too expensive to have kids and a mortgage.

I think part of the problem is that renting rules aren’t very family-friendly.

People shouldn’t have to feel like they can’t start a family until they own a house. In many parts of the world, like Europe, people rent for much of their lives by choice. Renting and starting a family should be a reasonable option in New Zealand.

Auckland, where the average house price is almost one million dollars. Image credit: Malcolm Peacey

Auckland, where the average house price is almost one million dollars. Image credit: Malcolm Peacey

One of the things that makes renting as a family hard is short term leases. It can be hard to put down roots in a community, get settled at local school, join sports teams, and make friends, if you might have to up and move away at short notice. It can be really tough on kids.

That’s why I have a member’s bill – the Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill – that introduces longer lease periods by default, with the option to opt out if tenants and landlords agree. My bill also gives people who rent a right of first refusal when their lease comes up for expiry. That way renting families can feel more secure in their homes and communities.

My bill also makes rent rises more transparent, by putting the formula for calculating rent rises into the tenancy agreement. That way families who rent can budget properly, knowing how much their housing costs could change and when, similar to families with mortgages who can fix their interest rate for a number of years.

Another issue is around making rental homes safer for babies. I’ve heard that sometimes landlords are reluctant to allow simple things to make homes safer, like safety catches on cupboards, or fixing heavy furniture items to walls. I’d like to work with landlord organisations to find ways to make rental homes safer for families.

We need to look at all sorts of tools to help solve the housing crisis. That means making homes more affordable to buy, but it also means updating the rules to recognise that renting should be a good option for some families.

Medium density housing in Mt Eden, Auckland

Flats in Mt Eden, Auckland