Evic­tions lack nat­u­ral jus­tice

Wanganui Chronicle - - Nation -

Afew years ago my daugh­ter asked me if some friends could use my flat in Wellington while I was away. I agreed as I wasn’t us­ing the flat and they were to be gone by the time I re­turned. When I got to Wellington the fol­low­ing week I found these guys still there. They had mis­cal­cu­lated the date of my re­turn and I was not happy when I found a cannabis pipe on the bench. In the last few days I have thought to my­self that it was a good job they hadn’t been smok­ing meth and I wasn’t a ten­ant of Hous­ing New Zealand. I’d be out on my ear.

The rev­e­la­tions that residue from peo­ple smok­ing meth in­side a prop­erty hold no mea­sur­able risk to health by the Prime Min­is­ter’s chief sci­en­tist, Sir Peter Gluck­man, come as a sur­prise given pre­vi­ous mes­sag­ing by Hous­ing New Zealand. This is as op­posed to man­u­fac­ture of metham­phetamine in­side a prop­erty, which is dan­ger­ous be­cause of the chem­i­cals used in its man­u­fac­ture.

Hous­ing New Zealand quickly ex­cused them­selves for uni­lat­eral evic­tions, by say­ing that the Min­istry of Health test for the pres­ence of meth was the only test avail­able, but the ques­tion of the suit­abil­ity of the test as a ba­sis for boot­ing ten­ants out into the street is a valid point. Mere pres­ence of traces isn’t enough. Surely, there needed to be a quan­tifi­able mea­sure­ment and ex­pul­sion would fol­low once the level could be as­so­ci­ated with, say, man­u­fac­tur­ing, which would give a bet­ter in­di­ca­tion of risk. The same test prov­ing the pres­ence of meth on wall­pa­per has also shown the pres­ence of meth on ran­dom $20 notes in gen­eral cir­cu­la­tion. No­body sug­gests the im­me­di­ate de­struc­tion of cur­rency if tests show some pre­vi­ous han­dler of the cash must have also been in con­tact with meth.

HNZ should have de­vel­oped their own test or ap­plied the test they had fairly in ev­ery case. This was not done.

Proof is an­other is­sue. What is the find­ing of traces of a drug proof of, in re­al­ity? Ob­vi­ously some­body has smoked meth in the house and smok­ing meth is a crime. But the ques­tion is who smoked and when. There has been no bench­mark test­ing show­ing the house was clean be­fore ten­ant­ing. This must have been in­cum­bent on HNZ to do, or they would be guilty of putting peo­ple at risk by al­low­ing them to rent a prop­erty that is con­tam­i­nated.

A court would never ac­cept a pos­i­tive test as proof against the cur­rent ten­ant on a charge un­der the Mis­use of Drugs Act, so I wonder why HNZ was al­lowed to im­pose such a pun­ish­ment with­out nat­u­ral jus­tice be­ing ap­plied in the first place.

When you rent a mo­tor car, you walk around it and check that there is no dam­age to it be­fore you be­come li­able for any sub­se­quent dam­age noted on its re­turn. This isn’t done with state houses, and in­com­ing ten­ants don’t have the means to test for them­selves at a cou­ple of thou­sand dol­lars a pop. As prior test­ing is not the pol­icy of HNZ, a prospec­tive ten­ant in­sist­ing on the house be­ing checked for meth be­fore mov­ing in would have quickly been told there were plenty be­hind them in the queue happy to rent it.

Crimes are com­mit­ted in our homes ev­ery day of the week, re­gard­less of own­er­ship or ten­ancy. And just be­cause an un­law­ful act is com­mit­ted on a prop­erty, the owner does not have an au­to­matic right to evict a ten­ant. A per­son charged with as­sault doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally lose their ten­ancy which, as a crime against the per­son, is a much more se­ri­ous of­fence. Nor is some­body grow­ing a few pot plants out the back be­hind the shed likely to be booted out of a state house.

There is an ob­vi­ous vul­ner­a­bil­ity to even be el­i­gi­ble for state hous­ing. On the behaviour of one per­son, the whole fam­ily has been evicted, cost­ing low-in­come folk thou­sands of dol­lars, up­set, changes to school­ing, loss of con­tact with sup­port and other dif­fi­cul­ties. On the ba­sis of what was thought to be sound ad­vice, fur­ni­ture was de­stroyed and the loss of rep­u­ta­tion and the ev­er­p­re­sent record with Winz and HNZ will re­main a black mark against the ten­ant.

The rea­son we have state hous­ing these days is to ac­com­mo­date vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. We need to ac­cept that we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide a safety net as much as peo­ple have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to act law­fully. But when they don’t, con­se­quences need to be pro­por­tion­ate and fair. There is an onus to ex­tend nat­u­ral jus­tice to any sit­u­a­tion where those con­se­quences are go­ing to be puni­tive, like evic­tion.

Surely that is what liv­ing in a civilised so­ci­ety is all about.

Hous­ing NZ did not do bench­mark meth test­ing on its houses.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.