Woman desperate for housing banned from showering more than once every three days

A woman says she was only allowed to shower once every three days and subjected to other draconian rules during a series of Auckland housing horrors.

Her plight was partly due to what a community leader described as unethical subletting and greedy landlords – but also an outcome of the broader housing crisis.

Last year the woman, who’d lived in Auckland for a decade and was studying part-time for a healthcare certificate, found herself needing a place to stay.

On Facebook, she saw a room in Blockhouse Bay advertised for $180 a week in a shared house with a married couple and a child.

She said the married couple who rented the house refused to give her a house key.

“They don’t (sic) give me a key. So if the husband and wife go out, I had to leave the house with them.”

She left after three weeks.

The next house she saw had a room available for $175 a week in Mt Albert.

There was no bed in the room, just a mattress with no sheeting.

She said the owners, a married couple in their mid-30s, imposed draconian rules.

“They only allowed a shower every three days.”

She said the house’s electricity provider offered one free hour of off-peak power every day and she was only allowed to cook during that hour.

The married couple’s obsession with saving money on power bills meant the woman was forbidden from washing clothes more than once a week.

If she couldn’t fit some dirty clothes in the machine, she wasn’t allowed to wash them.

She said after four weeks, she was depressed and scared and moved again.

A slew of substandard housing situations followed but she said as a single woman studying and on a jobseeker’s benefit, she had little support and few options.

She was frequently in tears when recounting her story to the Herald and didn’t want her name published because she feared repercussions from landlords.

Indian community leader Pratima Nand said he was concerned the woman, who did not speak English fluently, would be forced into homelessness at any moment.

She said the woman suffered from paranoia and anxiety and had been unable to find appropriate housing despite trying constantly since March 2020.

Late last month, nearly 22,500 people were on the public housing waitlist.

Nand said she was fielding an increase in pleas for housing help from members of the Indian diaspora.

Another woman seeking Nand’s help said she was living in a dungeon-like room in a 12-room Auckland boarding house.

Nand said the woman was so depressed at the lack of available housing in Auckland, she’d spoken of committing suicide.

Nand said these two women typified a wider problem in New Zealand.

“This is a serious concern for our community at large.”

A Government-mandated rent freeze slowed price increases for some of last year but those restrictions ended in September.

Nand said some unethical landlords were also dodging tax, insisting on “cash in hand” payment and bypassing formal bond lodgement processes too.

Nand said people unable to secure long-term housing suffered from extreme stress and depression.

“There is very little or no hope for the homeless to be able to secure a home for themselves, even by next election.”

Sharon Cullwick of the New Zealand Property Investors’ Federation said little if any legal protection covered someone who moved in without signing a tenancy agreement.

“There’s a big difference between a flatmate situation and a landlord-tenant situation.”

Cullwick, NZPIF Executive Officer, said Tenancy Services had staff able to speak multiple languages and potentially help people in situations like that of the Kiwi-Indian woman.

“The best thing to do is get educated. If landlords and tenants are having trouble, the best place to go is Tenancy Services.”

She said if a person moved in by agreement with a head tenant rather than a landlord, they should sign an agreement with the head tenant or person doing the sub-letting.

But that kind of relationship lacked the legal protections of a tenancy agreement.

Cullwick said if one flatmate exploited another, the aggrieved person could potentially ask the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for help.

The Disputes Tribunal could investigate claims up to $30,000.

This week, in response to ongoing concerns about New Zealand’s housing crisis, the Government announced the repeal of the Resource Management Act.

Environment minister David Parker said restrictive planning had contributed to a lack of certainty and unaffordable housing in urban areas.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Robertson said the Government planned to “tilt the balance” toward first-home buyers and wanted to incentivise new builds.

Where to get help:

• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389

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