Economic, social and cultural rights

The human right to adequate housing has been recognised in multiple international human rights treaties. As New Zealand is a signatory to many of these international treaties, everyone in the country has the right to adequate housing. Government is obliged to ensure this right is upheld.

The human right to adequate housing does not simply mean a roof over people’s heads. The United Nations has defined seven standards that must be met in order for housing to be adequate. You can read our 'Right to housing' Flyer for more information on this.

While Government is not obliged to build housing for everyone, it does have a responsibility to ensure everyone has access to adequate housing, regardless of personal, social or environmental issues. This responsibility means that Government must guide and monitor the provision of housing in New Zealand to ensure people are able to access suitable housing.

The right to adequate housing is broad and consists of seven standards:

  • Security of tenure: People have the right to know they are protected against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: People must be able to access services such as safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
  • Affordability: The cost of housing must not threaten or negatively affect people’s enjoyment of other rights.
  • Habitability: Housing must provide physical safety and protection against the elements, and must not negatively affect people’s health.
  • Accessibility: Disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including the disabled, must be given full access to housing and their needs taken into account.
  • Location: Housing must allow people to access to key facilities such as employment opportunities, healthcare centres and schools, and must not be close to polluted land.
  • Cultural Adequacy: People’s cultural identity and beliefs must be respected and taken into account.

Housing providers have responsibilities to ensure the human rights of their clients are met. As framed in international human rights law, the human right to adequate housing incorporates each of the conditions outlined in the seven standards above; thus, you are obliged as a housing provider to guarantee these conditions.

The right to housing is not specifically provided for in any New Zealand legislation, although it is addressed in a range of central government housing policies, laws and entitlements, including:

In New Zealand, the inability to obtain decent, affordable housing is one of the major barriers to an adequate standard of living. The quality of housing directly affects people’s health, particularly in the case of children and old people.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) says that the right to housing includes:

  • security of tenure, for example legal protection from arbitrary eviction 
  • availability of services, for example sustainable access to potable water, sanitation and emergency services 
  • affordability, for example housing costs as a ratio of income 
  • habitability, for example the soundness of physical structure and the absence of dampness and crowding 
  • accessibility, for example by all ethnic, racial, national minority and other social groups 
  • location, for example in relation to employment and schools 
  • cultural adequacy, for example taking into account traditional housing patterns.