An independent inquiry has been secured to investigate the student accommodation sector.
Parliament’s Education and Workforce Committee will examine the issue and are accepting written submissions from the public until the 2nd of July.
The move has been welcomed by the Green Party and the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA), who have been calling for the inquiry after the COVID-19 lockdown brought up issues around the management of student accommodation and how this affects wellbeing.
The inquiry comes after the introduction of the Education Pastoral Care Amendment Act last year, one of the only relevant frameworks to student accommodation. Unlike rental accommodation, student accommodation is not subject to tenancy laws.
Craccum has reported on the management of student accommodation across New Zealand universities this semester. Large numbers of students, including University of Auckland accommodation residents, have had to continue paying rent throughout the lockdown despite moving out. Other issues emerged around hefty cancellation fees and incomplete services being provided in accommodation.
The NZUSA has continually highlighted issues in the student accommodation sector throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, and collected stories of students’ experiences in accomodation. One student reported that “Our contracts are very vague and there is nothing to prevent students in the event of a pandemic. I had to move out during the pandemic to protect my own health, and was forced to pay double rent while bunking down in a flat. There should be an exit option or clear guidance around rental relief in contracts or legislation to protect future students”.
The accommodation sector has long been plagued by issues such as bullying and sexual assault. Last year, Otago University magazine Critic exposed sexual harassment and assualt in Knox College, and the mismanagement of sexual assault allegations by management. Critic reported that the “college’s traditions and culture have led to an environment in which many residents did not feel safe”. In the same year, a student death in University of Canterbury accommodation was not discovered until nearly eight weeks later, highlighting the neglect of responsibility for student welfare in accommodation.
An anonymous University of Auckland student told NZUSA that “I was bullied by other students, which led to depression and suicidal thoughts. Management were aware of the issues and did nothing. I shut myself in my room for weeks, too scared to leave; nobody checked in on me.”
The independent inquiry will make recommendations on how the sector should be reformed, and whether new policy should be introduced to govern student accommodation.