Twelve organisations including Renters United are calling for Trade Me to stop accepting residential rental property listings that breach the law.
But Trade Me says where it has been made aware of problems, it has removed listings. The company says it doesn't want to become an enforcement agency and that managers and landlords should themselves police their listings.
The group is demanding Trade Me "take action to stop illegal rental property listings".
The complaint came from Auckland City Centre Residents' Group, Child Poverty Action Group, Manawatū Tenants Union, Council of Christian Social Services, International Student Association, Union of Students' Associations, Organise Aotearoa, Te Mana Ākonga National Māori Tertiary Students' Association, Tenants Protection Association Auckland, Tertiary Education Action Group Aotearoa and Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association.
Alan Clark, Trade Me's property head, said it today feels like an unusual step to ask a private business to manage the healthy homes standards instead of having well-thought-out laws with agencies resourced to undertake enforcement.
"Properties that do not meet the standard are illegal and therefore cannot be listed on Trade Me. Every item listed on our site must meet our terms and conditions and
we're explicit that you cannot list a rental property that breaches the standards.
"Developing and enforcing regulations is the place of lawmakers to ensure
consistency for renters and regulators have statutory and other legal powers to take appropriate enforcement action. We're keen to see changes in this space but we aren't qualified and it's not our role to become a de facto enforce."
Saskia Yates, the letter coordinator, said around 40,000 people a day viewed rent listings.
"Trade Me must consider their ethical responsibilities when it comes to the safety and well-being of tenants."
The letter calls for it to demand managers or landlords to say if their property complies with the Residential Tenancies Act and the healthy homes standards.
It also calls for it to ban users who repeatedly breach standards or are reported to the community watch team.
Clark said Trade Me has a trust and safety team to monitor the site seven days a week for things that shouldn't be there but "we do not have a team of rental property inspectors".
"As a tech company, our teams are not qualified to be the ones to decide if a property's insulation is up to standard."
Tenancy Services' role was explicitly to monitor and enforce compliance of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment are far better placed to ensure Kiwis are abiding by the law, Clark said.
"We simply do not believe that asking people to tick a box is the solution to the rental crisis. However, we are looking into how we can help educate landlords about the healthy homes standards."
The critics cited a Herald story on a ramshackle west Auckland rental which had been removed from Trade me.
The Waitakere dwelling consisted of a caravan under a crude timber structure without fixed walls and an adjoining small corrugated iron shed.
According to the listing on Trade Me it offered one bedroom and a bathroom.
It was listed at $285 a week.
Trade Me confirmed it had removed the listing.
"We were on the side of caution and if we have any concerns about any listing onsite we will take action," said policy and compliance manager James Ryan at the time the listing was removed.
Last year, Trade Me won Commerce Commission approval to buy PropertyNZ Ltd, which owns and operates Homes.co.nz
That gave it an even further reach in the real estate sector.
Clark said today Trade Me already banned members who repeatedly breached its terms and conditions.
- by Anne Gibson, NZ Herald