The Education and Workforce Select Committee heard from students about their experiences in student accommodation last week as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the student accommodation sector.
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns highlighted once again a number of existing issues within the student accommodation sector. Following calls from the Green Party, the inquiry into student accommodation was launched.
In 2020, Craccum reported that University of Auckland accommodation residents began two petitions to have rent reduced over the Alert Level Four lockdown period, given that some students were unable to return to their rooms until New Zealand returned to Alert Level Two. Students affected eventually received a rent reduction.
At Victoria University of Wellington, students organised a rent strike after some residents were forced to move out of accomodation during the lockdown but still had to pay rent. The select committee heard from Azaria Howell, spokesperson for the Victoria Rent Strike, who highlighted that students already under financial pressure had to pay for expenses such as flights home after being made to leave student accommodation.
Other issues raised included the experiences of students working as residential assistants, claims of mismanagement and understaffing of accommodation facilities and mishandling of sexism and homophobia complaints.
A common theme raised both at the hearing and by Greens Tertiary Education spokesperson, Chloe Swarbrick, was the fact that student accommodation providers are not subject to usual tenancy laws. Swarbrick has previously called the sector a “Wild West”, and called for further regulation. Of the hearings today, she said that these submissions only reflect a small portion of the many issues she is also hearing from residents.