Housing Minister Phil Heatley announced on Sunday rent will be suspended for all Housing New Zealand (HNZ) tenants living in the areas of Christchurch most affected by the earthquake.
He says as an immediate measure, the agency will waive the rent of all state housing tenants in 32 suburbs for three weeks, backdated to 22 February.
Mr Heatley says more than 18,000 people live in 6000 HNZ homes in Christchurch, and he estimates the rent suspension will apply to about 2500 of those properties.
He told Checkpoint that the rent suspension applies to the worst-affected suburbs, but the agency will consider claims from tenants in other suburbs.
HNZ is flying in property inspectors and tenancy managers throughout the next few weeks to visit every state home to assess the welfare of tenants, and damage to properties.
Tenants in properties found to be uninhabitable will be moved immediately to alternative accommodation.
Those in properties that are habitable, without significant damage but without services, will pay only half rent after the three-week relief period expires, until services are restored and damage repaired.
Mr Heatley says these tenants will also be given the opportunity to move to alternative accommodation if they choose - and there have been many offers of help.
He says many tenants are vulnerable and have limited financial means so the rent suspension will provide immediate relief.
AA to help with accommodation
AA Insurance says it's able to help customers in need of accommodation.
Corporate affairs head Suzanne Wolton says customers are covered for temporary accommodation outside Christchurch.
Not as many people have contacted AA as expected, she says.