Councillor wary of rental property 'Wof' testing

Hilary Calvert
Hilary Calvert
It is good that a tool to assess whether rental properties will pass or fail a housing warrant of fitness will be tested to expose its flaws, but she will not be volunteering to take part, rental-property owner and Dunedin city councillor Hilary Calvert says.

Council staff and Mayor Dave Cull also have reservations about the test, but said it was the only way to determine whether the assessment tool developed was practical.

The tool, a warrant of fitness (Wof) checklist to be filled in by a trained assessor - in Dunedin's case assessors from outside the council - will be tested on 25 Dunedin rental properties in January and February.

The location of the properties will not be made public, nor will the results have any ramifications for owners, but the information will be fed back to a national group, including several major councils, which is developing a national standard for housing.

In a report to the DCC, council staff said their reservations included the pass/fail nature of the test - specifically what constituted a fail.

They said many Dunedin rental properties would likely fail the Wof in its present form and identified at least 10 criteria rentals might fail on.

The voluntary nature of the Wof was less likely to capture substandard housing and a phased process would be more realistic than the proposed enforcement method of allowing a period for items to be remedied before reassessment.

Policy analyst Anne Gray and events and community developer manager Rebecca Williams said the concerns had been raised with the national group and the feeling there was that such concerns were ''the very reason the field test should go ahead as it, in itself, would help define the ultimate Wof'''.

Concerns were expected to be highlighted during the Wof test phase and approaches reviewed.

They noted housing in other areas of the country taking part in the test could also potentially fail and that they did not expect Dunedin results to stand out from other cities'. However, Cr Calvert said the fact the test was being done, even though it was acknowledged it was flawed, would not inspire confidence in landlords, and would get even less buy-in if it continued to be ''fiddled with'' as time went on.

Although she applauded the desire to ensure Dunedin homes were warm and dry, she did not believe the rental Wof was the best way to achieve that.

The idea of assessing properties was good, but the fail/pass concept would discourage landlords and the level of detail in the 31 criteria of the present test went too far. It was ''nonsense'' if the goal was simply to ensure rental properties were warm and dry.

''I think this is a case where perfect is the enemy of good.''

Although it was good the assessment tool was being tested to highlight flaws, the council had to return to a focus on making houses dry and warm and felt an A to D rating system would be more encouraging for landlords.

''If you keep the rules light and add inspiration to achieve at a higher level, then you achieve much more with people. People will voluntarily do things they would never want to do if you come at them with a big stick.''

If landlords did all the things the Wof required, it would be at the expense of things they really needed to do to make houses warm and dry, she said.

The Wof would cost a lot to administer and, if not legislated for, would leave the council open to risk from challenges from landlords.

As the owner of some student housing in Dunedin, Cr Calvert would not volunteer to be part of the trial because the test was so flawed.

Mrs Williams said staff were confident they would find landlords to take part in the field test, and had a first meeting with landlords yesterday. She said testing the test was an early step in a long process.

Mr Cull said he started pushing a year ago for something to happen in Dunedin about minimum standards for insulation, heating and weather-tightness in rental housing because it was affecting the city's economy and community.

He said there was a possibility Cr Calvert's concerns were justified, but the tool had to be tested before the council jumped to any conclusions about it and

there was no guarantee the council would choose the Wof option. As a student accommodation owner, he would be comfortable with his flats undergoing assessment.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

Quite right Clare

What's also required is the final clause on the tennancy agreement that states "The property owner or their agent has the right to physically evict tenants and their property when rent arrears exceed seven days"

I'm sick of hearing of the "poor tenant". The property owner has bills to pay as well.

The tenant has viewed the property and signed the lease. If it's later not suitable you need to suck it up and ride out the lease then move on. Just remember, you get what you pay for. 

WOF for tenants

I will get a WOF for my rental when there is a WOF for tenants, after all its only fair.   The WOF for tenants will ask: 1. Have you ever been late for or not paid rent.  2. Do you know how to clean properly? 3. Can you garden and mow lawns? 4. Do you open the curtains each day? 5. Do you air the house by opening windows 6. Do you clean out heat pumps regularly? 7.  Do you dry washing inside? 8. Do you understand what max number living in a property means? 9. Do you wipe up condensation? 10. Do you know how to use bleach or exit mould?  11. Do you put your rubbish out each week in the correct bins/bags?  12. Are you considerate of your neighbours re noise? 13. Will your pets use our carpet as their toilet?  ... Smile landlords as you read this because you have all been there.  

I seriously doubt it...

I seriously doubt that any WOF system would force landlords to rush out and spend thousands of dollars improving their properties and thereby dramatically driving up the rents.  Simple supply and demand would dictate the folly of that notion.  It may mean that they do a little more regular maintenance however.  I've seen some rental properties over the years, where it crystal clear that the landlord simply doesn't care about anything other than the weekly deposit to their bank account. 

Now, many of those landlords (and they're in the minority) would continue to not give a damn.  But even if the WOF system merely provided a bit more information to prospective renters to allow them to better compare price/quality, those slumlords may find the demand for their hovels dying up a little.  At which point, maybe they'll start to give a damn...

Why housing WOF is silly

Max_Power points it out: "The truth is that most people who rent substandard housing do so because that's all they can afford."  So by the time landlords had brought their substandard housing up to WOF standard, given that incomes of the poor rise as slowly as concrete pavlovas compared with the $Tens of thousands awarded to the already highest paid, where will they live, those people are already doing "a delicate balancing act between eating, heating and having a roof"?  Cardboard box in t'middle of t'road?

The trouble with getting arrested for blocking the road is that Mum and Dad will have to violently resist arrest in order to be housed in warm dry accommodation courtesy of the prison system but they will be separated and the children will be at the mercy of whatever caregivers in whatever accommodation the authorities assign them to, excellent or abusive.  I'd be hoping to still live in the cold house, stocking up on op-shop woollen clothing at "fill a basket for $2" prices over summer when the selection is better, and if wearing hats and scarves indoors is what it takes to be warm, well, that's how it goes.  I'd also be hoping that the pressure for a living wage gains energetic supporters from  people in all walks of life, including those who can afford private swimming pools.  Not many landlords are in that group, by the way.

The perfect world

Oh the perfect world of the landlord where money isn't an issue. You all seem to think that tenants make a decision to choose substandard housing. The truth is that most people who rent substandard housing do so because that's all they can afford. They are not chosing between drug and alcohol money, but a delicate balancing act between eating, heating and having a roof.

Shoddy rentals

This WOF is so basic, if as a landlord you cannot pass, be ashamed.  The reality is landlords will have to lift their game as more and more people rent and get demanding.   The taxpayer does pay the bill for low standard housing in the long term.  We also want value for the accommodation benefit paid landlords through our taxes. We should not pay taxes for homes that make students, or young children sick.

Most people can choose

Sparrowhawk in a comment headed "Slums" indicates that probably evil landlords go out and grab tenants then, with a loaded pistol held to their heads, force them to sign leases for overpriced cold damp accommodation.  His easy-peasy solution: "Maybe business people of all sorts in this world are going to have to settle for less than maximum proffit."

My easy-peasy solution - don't sign up for a flat that costs more than it's worth.  If you as a tenant are prepared to trade cold and damp just so yiou don't have to get up 10 minutes earlier to get to work or university, that's your choice and don't blame anyone else.

Some people make trade-offs that most of us would never consider, and looking from the outside we tend to blame the landlord.  Here I refer to the cheap "slums". In some cases the tenants are prepared to put up with poor conditions to save money so they can get or stay out of debt.

Other people see rent as a waste of their alcohol and drug money, to the extent that some choose those substances over paying rent and get evicted, then adjust to the "better" life of homelessness with more money available for their addiction.  This is not a greedy-landlord problem.

When rental accommodation  is scarce as it is in Christchurch now, greedy ruthless landlords thrive and tenants suffer.  There is not such a shortage of rental accommodation in Dunedin that most people, unless they are unable to produce good references, should be able to get a decent home for a fair price.  Do the maths on rates, insurance, maintenance and repairs and the cost of buying the property - mortgage, or loss of income from the money they would have had to invest elsewhere had they not bought the rental property.  Add on the costs of property management. Then explain why landlords should subsidise the lifestyles of tenants.

Waste of time and money

Having read the long list of views Skinner is the only one who comes close to reality. 

Tenants have a choice of where they live.  They have eyes that should be able to see signs a property is likely to be damp or cold (it's not difficult to identify),  they have a voice with which to ask questions about insulation etc (landlords do not normally lie about such things because there could be legal comebacks),  they have ears to hear the answers to their questions.  AND most importantly there is an oversupply of accommodation in Dunedin at present so tenants have a choice!  According to the statistics I read in this paper about a week ago huge numbers of properties were vacant this year.   Interestingly a lot of the properties that are vacant are modern, warm, well insulated and of course high priced  because the landlord has had to pay a high price to create them. 

We own and have owned a number of rental properties over the years ranging in quality from new to knock down development sites.   Many many tenants will go for the old and cold (knowlng they are old and cold) simply because of the rental price.  Of course lots of Dunedins properties are old (lovely old character places that identify Dunedin that most of us appreciate) you can insulate ceilings and underfloors relatively cheaply but its much more expensive to insulate existing walls and double glaze windows.  Most landlords do what they can to make rental properties good to live in because they want people to rent them, however they also have to be cost effective.  Rental properties are not a charity,  landlords need to have a reasonable return on what they have spent on a property or there is no point in having rentals.   Landlords also know that many tenants can not afford to pay high rents so there has to be a number of lower quality cheaper properties to meet that demand.  The rental market itself sorts out this problem through supply and demand and no WOF will ever change that. 

A house WOF is a waste of time and money because at the end of the day the tenants themselves will be the judge based on what they see, hear and pay.   A 'guideline for renting document' could be helpful.  Inexperienced renters might refer to it when looking at rentals,  drawing their attention to things like insulation, Sun, heating options, double glazing so they ask the right questions and it should also tell them what they personally have to do to avoid dampness and mould. 

[Abridged]

More housing is a good thing - for renters, anyway

I agree, skinhat, more housing availability would be a great thing for driving down prices and driving up the quality through competition. But we're currently scraping the bottom of the barrel, and the WoF system appears to be aimed at establishing a minimum standard for rental properties - health and safety being two important issues that many many many landlords currently don't seem to care about at all. Once a majority of rental properties actually meet some basic standards, then I think that serious people can start talking about the competitive advantages of some properties over others, and I don't think that the WoF system will have much impact on that side of things. If it does start to become a ranking system for assessing the merits of some properties over others, then something (else) has gone terribly wrong.

Getting our flats sorted

Calvert's opinion reads like it's  straight from the shabby landlords' handbook. The WOF initiative is a great idea - particularly as it pertains to student accomodation in Dunedin which, let's face it, is generally terrible.
Enough of letting dodgy landlords lease shabby housing at ridiculous prices. [Abridged]

Increasing supply best way to improve rental quality

The best way to increase the quality of accomodation is to encourage more people to become landlords, therefore increasing supply of rental properties. To compete landlords will need to provide higher quality properties at lower prices to attract tenants. If there is low supply of rental accomodation tenants just get whats left over often at an expensive price. Too much of the discussion here is the simplistic socialist notion that landlords are the enemy of the people. A WOF system does the opposite of encouraging people to become landlords and does nothing to increase the supply of rental accomodation.

 

Slums

So the answer is slum dwellings for the poor? I don't think so. Maybe business people of all sorts in this world are going to have to settle for less than maximum proffit. Maybe 'feasible' is now a more viable alternative approach to expectations of profit. It's mindsets that need changing as much as anything else. Continual 'growth' is not always as desirable as we are led to believe.

 

WOF drive up rents?

My main concern about the WOF process is that all it will do is drive up rents. A lot of landlords faced with a large bill to be WOF compliant will just sell their properties thus reducing the supply of rental accomodation.

Who else has rental properties?

Does Mayor Cull still have residential rental properties?  Any other councillors?  What about council employees?

WoF for rentals

I suppose it you wanted to know whose interests Mrs Calvert see as a priority you have a clear answer.

Go tell the Spartans

In the good old pre-ACC days, with the right to sue for injury caused by building neglect, landlords were vigilant with rental property, especially, actually, when renting to tenants expecting a baby (after a time of wonder). Stlll, washing facilities were not mandatory or plumbed and bathtubs were for Rinso™.

Exactly the point of the WoF

"In a report to the DCC, council staff said their reservations included the pass/fail nature of the test - specifically what constituted a fail. They said many Dunedin rental properties would likely fail the Wof in its present form and identified at least 10 criteria rentals might fail on."

Right, many of these rental properties are poorly built, cold, damp, rickety, badly maintained, filthy, leaky, drafty, smelly, and overpriced. What's the objection? Isn't this exactly the point of the WoF system that is being proposed? Of course many properties will fail, and many properties should fail.

If the councillors are so concerned about the nature of the test, maybe they - particularly the ones who own student housing - should take proactive measures to improve the rental housing standards in Dunedin. Instead, they're complaining about a proposed system that is going to be tested to see whether it might serve as a model that could eventually be used to guarantee basic living conditions (for people who are, in general, paying far more than their rental housing is worth).

At present, not enough is being done. Now that the WoF system has been proposed, those who currently benefit from the total lack of oversight are suddenly very concerned about the situation. How very typical of those in positions of power and wealth! Things will change, in Dunedin and elsewhere, but one wonders just how bad things will have to get before the people who have no choice but to live in rental properties will see that they have no choice but to make their voices heard.

Conflict of interest

I notice someone has already made the comment I logged in to make - that Calvert should be absent any debate on the matter.

Mind you, some folk can be there and not be there, so maybe they tick the 'absent' box while being present.

Glad I'm not one of her tenants. [Abridged]

Conflict of interest

Councilors who own rental properties should have to excuse themselves from any discussions on WOF for rental properties.

Not a good look

Wonder what she would have said before being elected?

Not a good look what ever way you look at it! We have substandard rentals in Dunedin, she should be front-footing this.

But like most politicians she puts a spin on in and deflects.

 

 

They should have the same standards as restaurants

A cold damp flat is no different to a restaurant with poor hygiene standards. Rentals should be by law fit to live in, as restaurants have to be fit to eat in. Why the lax special treatment for landlords, both from central and local government. Restaurant owners should be miffed at this double standard. The tax payer ends up picking up the tab with the health bill, and considering the tax dodges that rentals are, this is double the injury. About time central and local government started treating landlords like any other business.

As for bad tenants and the negative effect they have on the surrounding neighbourhood.....there should be regulations for that as well, like negative environmental impacts of any other business.

Interesting

Now we will see the political orientation of our councillors. Business-oriented ACT party-influenced Calvert doesn't want her properties assessed for livableness and is concerned for landlords. Time for there to be some concern for tenants, me thinks.

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