Landlord's message shocks: "My koro would be very angry"

By Kelvin McDonald

A young Māori woman who received a shocking reply from a potential landlord feels she was discriminated against because of her Māori name, a name gifted to her by her koro. 

On Monday, 22-year-old student Reremai Cameron (Ngāti Tūwharetoa/Ngāpuhi) saw an ad on Trade Me for a sleepout for rent in Tauranga and messaged the landlord about it.

But the social work student who attends the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus wasn't expecting the reply she received, which focused on her Māori name.

"Just reading your name, are you Māori?" said the landlord in the text message to Cameron.

The landlord then proceeded to outline an experience she'd claimed to have had with a previous Māori tenant which her family, who live in the house with the sleepout, "won't tolerate".  

"We have had a Māori in our home before whom had multiple family and friend visitors, that is something we won't tolerate."  

Cameron was brief but pointed in her reply.

"Yes, I am Māori, and thanks but I'll pass," she texted, "Would rather pay $215 a week in rent to someone who isn't prejudice [sic] against Māori.  Enjoy your week."

Cameron says she's disappointed at the landlord's response and especially angry that she singled out her Māori name, which she regards as special.

"It makes me angry, to be honest.  Me having my name is my identity ... It was given to me by my koro for a reason and for someone to try and pick my personality, and group me, that just makes me so angry."

Cameron says her grandfather would be annoyed if he heard of the situation.

"Very angry.  He'd be very p-o'd about it but I don't think he would be surprised because he's lived through a lot of it his whole he would know better than anyone, I think."


Cameron says this is the first time she's felt discriminated against because of her name but it isn't the first time she's experienced prejudice because she's Māori. 

"I've had experience of discrimination at face value but this is the first time I've had someone message me and express concern just because I had a Māori name." 

She says she's been treated differently in the past because of her Māori appearance when she's been out with her pākehā whānau.

"I noticed when we would go out in public and we'd go to a shop or a store how differently the treatment can be and they wouldn't even realise we were together or that I would notice it.

"There was one incident when I was walking out of a store with my cousin and they didn't ask to check her bag, yet they asked to check mine.  So the fact that stuff like that is still happening is just...I have no explanation for it," she says.

Te Kāea approached the landlord for comment on Cameron's accommodation inquiry but did not receive any response to repeated messages. 

The Human Rights Commission says that while they cannot comment on specific cases, anyone who believes they have been discriminated against in access to housing can complain to them.

"Generally, human rights law and tenancy law both make it unlawful for landlords to treat anyone differently on certain grounds," says a commission spokesperson.

"Those grounds include race, colour, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.  The same law applies to private landlords as well as rental agencies.  However, there are some exceptions that cover situations such as boarders, flatmates and shared residences where the usual rules do not apply." 

In the five years ended 31 December 2018, the commission says it received just under 400 complaints from tenants or would-be tenants relating to discrimination by landlords or property managers.

Meanwhile, Cameron says she's had both positive and negative reactions to news of her experience.

"I've had a lot of people really positive about it and trying to show support but I've also had a lot that were basically using 'I have a Māori friend and I'm not racist but' and then making an excuse for what [the landlord's] written."

She says she's still looking for accommodation but has had lots of offers since her experience became public, some from friends who didn't realise she was looking, but also from sympathetic strangers.

"There have been quite a few people who messaged me just based on seeing the article and offering rooms."