Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Housing NZ keeps digging the meth hole

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  • Martin Nicholls,

    I believe that, under NZ law, there is a case to undertake a class action against HNZ, specific HNZ managers, the chairperson, the Tenancy Tribunal (especially Melissa Poole), Standards NZ, Paula Bennett. Would there be any law firms willing to take this on on behalf of HNZ tenants who are too poor to afford litigation?

    As Ross Bell noted, because no baseline testing of HNZ properties was ever carried out, and given the very low threshold set for meth testing, it was impossible to tell whether it was the current tenant (or even several previous tenants) responsible for the contamination. That means there was no proof in law of criminal liability established against the tenant evicted, especially since the burden of proof is guilty beyond reasonable doubt in criminal law and on the balance of probabilities in a civil case (such as claims for costs against tenants for cleanup by the Tenancy Tribunal). Neither standard of proof was met, I would confidently assert.

    From the time Dr Nick Kim convincingly pointed to flaws in the testing regime (and his contaminated bank note analogy), I became dubious of both the efficacy of testing and the political machinations that lay behind it. With Prof. Gluckman's report, it was a slam dunk and, from then on, the future of certain outspoken HNZ staff and the Tenancy Tribunal's 'business as usual' model was doomed.

    Yet, despite all the learned and expert warnings about the testing, HNZ's National Chemical Manager's Charlie Mitchell refused to back down and even went as far as to accuse Stuart Jessamine of MoH of lying in an RNZ interview. It was truly bizarre!

    I can name people who should and might be sacked as a result of this fiasco: Charlie Mtichell himself, Andrew McKenzie, Paul Commons, Melissa Poole of the Tenancy Tribunal and the HNZ chairperson. I believe this will happen as was the case in 1999 after the change in government from an anti-tenant draconian management approach by HNZ staff (under the direction of then Housing Minister, John Luxton) to one that is more socially responsible.

    For those who follow history, it becomes patently clear that HNZ is a political organisation and its staffing appointments reflect the philosophy of the government of the day to a level bordering on corruption. This needs to stop and certain people and agencies appearing in court might be a great way to achieve justice for evicted tenants and to impose a certain level of self-reflection upon those forced to front up before the court.

    New Plymouth • Since Jun 2018 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to Martin Nicholls,


    This gentleman managed to do that for most of the piece then goes kinda lynch mob when addressing the idea that tenants might get compensation.
    ...they were engaged in an illegal activity Ferchrissakes! suck it losers!
    or words to that effect...

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    The gentleman I refer to above is a property manager so that colours his perception completely, and he's never done anything illegal or immoral in his life judging by his rhetoric> Yeah right!

    When are media outlets going to grow some backbone, stop getting dicks like Faulkner to just give their opinion and maybe talk to those affected by this cock up.
    Tenants. Heard of them ? hmm
    C'mon media lift your game.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Nicholls, in reply to andin,

    My simple answer to that (a common misconception re. the 'illegal activities of tenants') is that, given the flawed and forensically unsupportable nature of the testing and HNZ's use of the methodology, it cannot be proven that the people evicted were responsible for the presence of meth residues. Therefore, the evictions were almost certainly illegal in law, and the finding for costs against some tenants by the Tenancy Tribunal would, similarly, have been contestable in a civil law context.

    Yes, I can agree that some of the tenants might well have smoked meth (and one or two might have cooked it), but, because HNZ's testing regime was so forensically flawed it was impossible to prove criminal or civil liability against an individual one way or the other. Under New Zealand law, people charged with a crime are innocent until proven guilty and Mr Mitchell, et al. failed to establish this, but continued to stubbornly demonise state house tenants without any basis of fact.

    So the outcome was a fiasco for two reasons: (a) the lack of baseline testing carried out meant that probably innocent people were evicted and blacklisted from the rental market and (2) the lack of the same baseline testing meant that guilty tenants could not be prosecuted for drug use and the argument that HNZ have zero tolerance to illegal activity (read, meth use) is fatuous when no former tenant had been charged, knowing putting them before the courts would have been an exercise in futility.

    As it turned out, those tenants responsible for the meth contamination were most likely the very people who got off scott-free while the current tenants were the ones evicted and subsequently demonised, defamed and left homeless.

    None of HNZ's performance is acceptable or anything other than scandalous and those people supporting their stance should think more carefully before pointing the finger and making stereotypical assertions about who the evicted tenants were.

    Yes, heads must roll because certain civil servants blatantly and cynically broke the law, defamed evicted tenants and need to be held to account. I'm seeking fair representation in court for those evicted, vulnerable tenants who are unable to afford to defend themselves. Is it okay for those HNZ staff on between $10,000 and $20,000 per month, and so out of touch with the circumstances of those people they have demonised and wronged, to be so reckless with the truth and due legal process?

    New Plymouth • Since Jun 2018 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Nicholls, in reply to andin,

    It does sound that way, doesn't it. But we must also feel very sorry for those landlords required to carry out needless cleanups. Under the PM's assertion that they are not entitled to compensation because their cleanups were voluntary and not mandatory must also be challenged. For instance, the Auckland Council had enforced one of its bylaws requiring landlords found to have 'excessive' meth readings to undertake decontamination or face prosecution, so they would surely be eligible for compensation.

    New Plymouth • Since Jun 2018 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to Martin Nicholls,

    , the Auckland Council had enforced one of its bylaws requiring landlords found to have ‘excessive’ meth readings to undertake decontamination or face prosecution,

    So they pay for the meth test but get compensation for the unnecessary work carried at ACC behest.
    But those at fault cant be allowed to carry on just using the "Well it was policy back then'' defence.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to andin,

    Tenants do not buy advertising ..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

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