"We are a month away on unit title proposals" - Smith

A shakeup of New Zealand's $40 billion apartment sector is imminent.

Nick Smith, Minister of Building and Housing, this week announced how big changes would soon be unveiled but he did not give any further details of what they would entail.

Announcing how Parliament had passed legislation to extend special housing areas, Smith referred to the apartment shakeup in passing.

"We also have work underway on reforming unit title law to better support apartment development and building law reform to support innovation and improving quality assurance," Smith said.

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Smith also told The Herald this week that the results would emerge soon.

"We are a month away on unit title proposals," he said.

That all points to the Government seeking to pass amendments to the Unit Titles Act as well as the Building Act, although Smith did not explicitly name those.

Prime Minister John Key has at least three times in the last three years said people who could not afford a house should instead consider buying an apartments because that is what those in Sydney and Melbourne do.

In May, Smith received a heavyweight report seeking tougher rules, including a substantial submission from the Homeowners & Buyers Association, and he also indicated support for reform at that time.

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith says work apartment law reform is under way.
Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith says work apartment law reform is under way.

"I have asked officials to review these reform proposals and report back to me in August on potential options. I have also asked for a report on recent changes to unit title legislation in Australia to help inform any policy changes," he said in May.

"I am open-minded about reform. There is always a balance to be struck between the benefits of additional compliance requirements and the costs these impose."

His comments follow the Unit Title Working Group report from a group of experts who want a big overhaul of the system and an ombudsman appointed to rule in disputes and educate people.

We also have work underway on reforming unit title law to better support apartment development and building law reform to support innovation and improving quality assurance

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Smith praised the work on the rapidly expanding sector where hundreds of new apartments are being built in Auckland alone.

"This is a thoughtful report and proposes changes to make our property law around higher density housing work better. "It is particularly important as apartments and townhouses become a more popular choice and an increasing share of the housing market in cities such as Auckland," he said, naming three areas which need improvement:

• Better disclosure rules to ensure people know earlier in the purchase process all relevant information about a unit or apartment and the governing body corporate.

• Accessibility of the dispute resolution processes and whether the Tenancy Tribunal is best placed to resolve disputes.

• The role of body corporate managers and their legal obligations. Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye spearheaded action, establishing an apartment blues website this year. She is delighted with progress.

Smith's shakeup talk comes after Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye conducted a major investigation into issues, after her constituents complained about loose apartment sector laws.

Kaye established a web site, met the public and sector chiefs, then co-ordinated work to produce the big report which went to Smith. It was announced this week that she had breast cancer and that she would be taking leave for treatment.