Despite half of New Zealand universities ceasing to charge accommodation fees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Auckland has continued to charge students who left university accommodation throughout Alert Levels 3 and 4.
Students in catered residences who did not remain in accommodation during the nationwide lockdown received a rent reduction of $120 per week, while those in self-catered residences had their rent reduced by $60. However, students wishing to cancel their accommodation contracts during the lockdown were unable to do so until the country moved to Alert Level 2 last week and they can collect their belongings, and must now pay cancellation fees in excess of $1,000 on top of this. Students have also expressed concerns that they are being charged for services such as recreation centre memberships that are included in their rent, despite these facilities being inaccessible for the last seven weeks.
Students at Auckland University of Technology have faced a similar situation, in which their rent has been slightly reduced but they must still pay rent for vacant rooms. Students have been warned regarding speaking to the media on the issue.
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick has been leading the charge on addressing student accommodation concerns, with their campaigning resulting in Victoria University stopping rent payments for students who had to move out of their halls of residence. Massey and Waikato universities ceased charging rent to students who had left at the beginning of Alert Level 4.
Swarbrick has been in communication with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff regarding the charges being applied to Auckland accommodation residents, and highlighted that Campus Living Villages, who operate multiple AUT accommodation facilities, has so far claimed $915,789.60 through the government’s wage subsidy scheme.
University accommodation is not covered by normal tenancy laws in New Zealand, and therefore issues cannot go before the tenancy tribunal. The new Education Pastoral Care Amendment Act is one of the only relevant frameworks that applies to university accomodation, and the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations highlights that universities’ actions in continuing to charge absent students rent during the lockdown may be in violation of this.