The Green Party has started the process for a select committee inquiry into what it has labelled a “Wild West student accommodation sector”.
Throughout the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, students across New Zealand have faced challenges in dealing with student accommodation providers. Green Party MP and party spokesperson for tertiary education Chloe Swarbrick has been heavily involved in advocating for students confronted by what they deem to be unfair conditions.
“During the COVID-19 lockdown, thousands of students were charged by providers for accommodation that they couldn’t stay in. Many returned home to be near families and loved ones and were stuck with paying two lots of rent. Just today, I learnt of a student who has been given 72 hours to pay debt accumulated over lockdown or risk their graduation,” says Swarbrick. “Any attempt to work out why this was happening revealed inconsistencies across different universities and providers. It showed an impenetrable web of contracts and confidentially that pushes blame and shifts accountability.”
At University of Auckland accommodation, students who returned home to their families for Alert Level 4 were continued to be charged rent, albeit at a reduced rate. Those who wished to cancel their accommodation contracts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic faced cancellation charges upwards of $1000, and had to continue to pay rent until New Zealand returned to Alert Level 2 and they could collect their belongings from accommodation facilities. In response to these conditions, students from Carlaw Park Student Village and O’Rorke Hall created petitions to the accommodation management team – both of which garnered hundreds of signatures.
Accomodation disputes have not just been limited to the University of Auckland. Last month, Victoria University students were successful in having their rent frozen after they were forced to move out of their halls and asked to continue paying rent. And last week, AUT students received an email threatening that their grades and graduation would be affected if they did not pay outstanding rent. AUT has since apologised for the incident.
Massey and Waikato universities were the first to freeze rent at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, with some other tertiary institutions following suit. However, many students at other universities are still not satisfied with the conditions imposed on them by student accommodation providers, and have welcomed the Green Party’s move.