Renting is already a difficult process for many people - but what if you had to factor in discrimination, too?

When it comes to renting, Māori experience racial discrimination more than any other ethnicity in New Zealand, according to advocacy group Renters United.

Aroha Harris (Te Aupōuri, ki Te Kao), says she goes by a Pākehā name when applying for homes after facing racial discrimination while looking for a rental.

She wears a moko kauae (traditional face tattoo) which she also feels the need to cover with a mask when attending house viewings due to her fear of rejection. 

Although Aroha and her husband Rob both have really good references, Aroha tends to go to house viewings alone. 

She says when they go to house viewings together they never get a callback.

“Rob tends to want to stay home because he's big and he's dark, those are the words he would use,” Aroha says.

“He would say, ‘I better just stay home because they'll think we're drug dealers or gang members or something like that.’”

Aroha says one thing that has helped get them through the door is the school her kids go to, however, she says the rental managers assume her kids must be on scholarships to be in such nice schools.

How common is discrimination in renting?

Aroha’s experiences are shared by many other people, according to Geordie Rogers of Renters United.

He says people of colour will sometimes send someone who is more Pākehā-presenting to flat viewings because Pākehā-presenting people are more likely to get the property.

“I think that's extremely illustrative of the discrimination that happens in the [rental] sector.”

One of the major reasons for being rejected from a home application is ethnicity, Rogers says.

“Sometimes that is direct and vocalised and is bluntly upfront racism, and that's saying ‘I don't want anyone who is Māori looking at my flat or my rental property.’”

This kind of discrimination can also present itself as tenants being told they can’t cook a specific type of food in the home.

Prospective tenants report other kinds of discrimination when applying for rentals, Rogers says.

This includes people who are at various stages of a gender transition. 

Many of those particular cases occur in live-in landlord situations, where the landlord lives in the property and is renting out a room, Rogers says.

There have been instances where trans tenants are evicted with little notice after beginning their transition. 

There are also situations where people expecting a baby let their landlords know and find themselves kicked out due to a “no babies allowed” policy. 

Rogers says people can turn to the Citizens Advice Bureau if they experience discrimination while looking for somewhere to live, but the current power dynamics make any moves in this space difficult.

“In terms of the advice that can be given, it is incredibly limited,” Rogers says.

“I think that further speaks to the fact that the system that we have for renting is set up in such a way that it believes that landlords are inherently good and that they always look after the renters.”

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