Better housing for renters

By Kiri Gillespie

7 comments
Dr Jim Miller
Dr Jim Miller

Tauranga has been named as one of five cities to hold warrants of fitness for rental properties as part of a national project to make rental accommodation safer for tenants, particularly children and the elderly. The move was welcomed by tenant advocates, but one local property management firm says it could result in increased rents due to implementation costs.

Selected 125 properties - 25 in each city - in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin will be given the once-over by home assessment experts.

The field tests will not result in the immediate issue of warrants of fitness (WOF) but will help introduce the standards, methodologies and checklists to ensure the project's credibility.

Tauranga City Council will contribute more than $10,000, with a $4900 contribution to the national project, then another $6000 for the actual home assessments in Tauranga and reports to be completed, working out at roughly $250 per assessment.

Be Home Realty Ltd property manager Merv Fitzgibbon said the warrants could lead to higher rents for the 33 per cent of Kiwis who rent.

"I think having to have WOFs will only add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy which ultimately could lead to landlords putting up the rent of tenants who can least afford it," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he can understand the need for WOFs in Auckland and probably Dunedin but the situation in Tauranga was different from other parts of the country.

However Tauranga Rentals Ltd owner Dan Lusby said he did not believe it would necessarily lead to higher rents. He said he has been in real estate for about 40 years and has seen a lot of property owners fail to maintain their rental properties.

"Unfortunately a lot of owners either couldn't afford it or don't want to spend the money," Mr Lusby said, adding the requirement to obtain WOFs was a "great idea".

"Unless you make it compulsory to get one, it [maintenance work] just won't happen ... I don't believe that it will mean higher rents just because owners have to pay $10-$20 getting the extra paperwork, as the market dictates what landlords can charge. If rents are too high, people just won't pay."

Age Concern Tauranga chairwoman Angela Scott said the incentive was "an absolutely excellent idea".

"It's expensive enough, and difficult enough, to find rentals. Then to still pay for something not being insulated and damp, it's not right," she said.

Mrs Scott said the WOFs would be of huge benefit to children with asthma and older people with chest infections, both exacerbated by cold, damp living conditions.

"You can have all the good will in the world but if you can get away with something, you will. If more standards are put in place, it can only be a good thing."

Mrs Scott said she expected more demand would be placed on the elderly rental market in years to come. "Once people can no longer live in their own old family homes and are looking for other accommodation, it's very limited. Unless you want to move into a village, there's nowhere else really for small, suitable accommodation," she said. "They are sort of stuck. They can't afford to move anywhere else and pay any more rent. For what they pay, you should expect some sort of standards."

Mayor Stuart Crosby said it was unfortunately well-known that much of New Zealand's older housing was cold, damp and of lower standards than in many other OECD countries.

That had contributed to increased cases of severe asthma, rheumatic fever and other housing-related illnesses.

Toi Te Ora Public Health Service chief medical officer Jim Miller said WOFs were a positive step. "These issues are being brought to public and government attention. So now there's evidence people are taking these facts and doing something about it," Dr Miller said.

Poor housing exacerbated some health ailments such as respiratory conditions but also affected people's mental health.

Other housing factors to be considered were hazards such as unfiltered gas heaters and indoor condensation leading to falls or slips.

"It's not totally straight forward but there's a very clear link between good, warm, dry housing and good health," Dr Miller said.

The assessment tool was developed by the NZ Green Building Council and the University of Otago (Wellington) with feedback and input from the five councils, ACC and other housing experts. Additional reporting,

Sandra Conchie

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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