Greens urge Trade Me to adopt checkbox solution for dungeon-like rentals
An influx of substandard rental listings on Trade Me has led the Green Party to demand better of the online auction website.
Recent Wellington-based lists have been compared to “someone’s dungeon”, or lamented as “very scody”Trade Me usually quickly removing offending listings once reported.
But Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick thinks the website could prevent these lists from going live.
The solution was simple: require landlords to upload a statement that “declares that the property meets all legal requirements [such as the Residential Tenancies Act and Healthy Homes standards]or ask them to tick a box to declare compliance.
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“I refuse to believe that it is deeply complex for a tech giant like Trade Me to add a few extra checkboxes,” Swarbrick said. “It’s one of the most basic things we can do in this overcooked rental market.”
The current situation — with a horror list going viral every two weeks — was “a post-ironic joke” and “a bad look” for Trade Me, Swarbrick said.
She had written to the website to address the idea and was awaiting a full response.
Trade Me property sales manager Gavin Lloyd did not endorse the proposal.
“We believe that developing regulations is best placed with legislators to provide consistency for tenants, and we don’t believe it’s our role to become a de facto regulator,” Lloyd said.
Trade Me’s Trust and Safety team constantly monitored the listings, but the website otherwise relied on users to report listings they “believed to be non-compliant”. The tech giant “erred on the side of caution” and often deleted listings when concerns were raised.
The government had “statutory and other legal powers” which the online auction site did not have, Lloyd said. He was open to talking with regulators about “labor[ing] together to make sure our members have a great on-site experience,” but any changes to its operations should be “doable and implementable.
Swarbrick said that response ignores common sense.
Trade Me has previously used checkboxes to flag compliance elsewhere on its website, she said. Users listing cars, for example, had to check boxes to declare whether the vehicle had a current warrant of fitness.
An identical checkbox that flagged that a rental property complied with Healthy Homes standards – or the Residential Tenancies Act – should therefore be an easy addition. “Logic doesn’t stack up,” Swarbrick said.
Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams declined to comment on the “operation of particular businesses”.
Instead, she noted that the government had amended the Residential Tenancies Act to “align [rental laws] with the current realities of renting in New Zealand”, while implementing the Healthy Homes standards which aimed to provide renters with “a warm and dry place to call home”.
National Housing spokeswoman and deputy leader Nicola Willis said the responsibility should lie with landlords rather than Trade Me. “Landlords must take personal responsibility for ensuring that the properties they wish to rent meet all legal requirements.”
Horror rental listings tended to “grab the headlines,” but the vast majority of landlords kept their rentals in good shape, Willis said.
Swarbrick, however, did not believe owners were currently required to do enough. The Greens were instead campaigning for a fitness mandate-type requirement for all rental properties in Aotearoa.
A rental WOF would give tenants the dignity of “security, independence and access to quality housing”, she said. In its letter, Swarbrick also called on Trade Me to “take a stand and show solidarity” with tenants by supporting such a policy.
Wellington Renters United spokesman Geordie Rogers backed the establishment of a rental WOF, but said Trade Me still had to bear some responsibility in the meantime.
“As an organization that profits from listings, it’s their responsibility to make sure those listings are legal,” Rogers said. “They get a piece of it…and they have to make an active effort.”