Tenancy Act changes too late to help

Hamish Walker. Photo: supplied
Hamish Walker
Association Housing Minister Kris Faafoi says it is not possible for the Government to make further immediate legislative changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to solve the issue of farm workers refusing to leave their accommodation.

The problem was raised last month by Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker who was contacted by more than 10 farmers concerned that former employees were not moving out of the accommodation provided for working on the farm, which was needed for new staff for the start of the new dairy season on June 1.

The Act was temporarily amended to freeze all rent increases and to protect tenants from having their tenancies terminated during the Covid-19 crisis.

While both Mr Faafoi and Housing Minister Dr Megan Woods’ offices did not respond to inquiries from the Otago Daily Times, Mr Faafoi had written to Mr Walker, saying he understood the temporary measures came at an ‘‘extremely inconvenient time" in the farming season.

He had suggested to Federated Farmers national dairy chairman Chris Lewis, who had also expressed concerns, that the Temporary Accommodation Service might be of assistance if a new employee was unable to be moved into accommodation due to an existing tenant not vacating.

That service could arrange for deployment of motorhome accommodation or hotel/motel accommodation in a nearby town for the incoming worker, if eligible.

It was not possible for the Government to make further immediate legislative changes to the Act to make exemptions for on-farm tenancies.

Even if changes were to have been agreed, they could not have been made in time to enable termination notices to be served prior to Moving Day.

Landlords were still able to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for an order to terminate existing tenancies on limited specific grounds, Mr Faafoi said.

If not extended beyond the initial period, the Covid-19 restrictions on tenancy terminations in the Act would expire on June 25, meaning farmers would be able to exercise the usual termination notices from June 26.

They would also have the ability to terminate service tenancies with less than 14 days notice ‘‘in circumstances where it is necessary for the conduct of their business to bring in a replacement employee in less than 14 days and no suitable alternative accommodation is available for the replacement worker".

Ministers would soon make decisions about whether to extend the Covid-19 provisions beyond June 25 so all landlords including farmers, had the certainty they needed to begin planning for their businesses.

The impact of the decision on the rural sector would be carefully considered, including the particular impacts raised for dairy farmers, Mr Faafoi said.

In response, Mr Walker said it was ‘‘incredibly disappointing" the Government’s solution was motorhomes or motels in a nearby town.

"The reality is for many dairy farmers the closest town can sometimes be an hour away, and when cups-on is 4am, it’s just not practical or safe to have an employee staying off-farm. It’s too late for farmers now, as many workers have headed to their new jobs over moving weekend,” he said.


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