THE RESIDENTIAL Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill will protect flatting students from being liable for damage they have not caused, according to a submission by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA).
Labour MP Maryan Street’s bill, if passed, will force landlords to ensure their tenants against any damage caused in a way that is not deliberate or negligent. It will also forbid any ‘joint and several liability’ clauses in insurance agreements which in the past have held tenants collectively responsible for damage caused by one flatmate.
NZUSA Co-President Joey Randall and VUWSA President Nick Kelly explained that they support the bill because many students are often unable to afford contents insurance. They felt that given the option, students will normally choose the cheaper option and not insure themselves due to their disadvantaged position in society, leaving them in a poor financial position if any damage is caused.
The Insurance Council of New Zealand also made a submission, acknowledging the good intention of removing the possibility of ‘joint and several liability’ from the current law but rejected other features of the new bill. They feared that as the bill will require landlords to insure tenants against damage caused to the flat, they may choose not to insure people that are more of a risk, creating an underclass of people who cannot find accommodation.
Street agrees that some people will have difficulty finding accommodation. “If people are having trouble getting accommodation because of their own behaviour, I’m not going to set up a system that rescues them.”
She also says that the bill does not address insurance companies’ behaviour if they are not going to insure people based on the actions of their previous flatmates. However, she does believe that her bill will clear innocent flatmates, enabling them to take a court case against an insurance company.