Call for tighter rental housing regulations

There are calls for tighter housing regulations around rental properties after a pilot warrant of fitness trial failed more than 90 per cent of homes it tested.

Housing advocates and politicians have hit out, saying compulsory minimum standards should be introduced - and actively enforced - to protect the health and safety of tenants.

The trial assessed 144 properties in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, and found the vast majority (94 per cent) failed on at least one of the 31 assessment criteria on the checklist.

All 31 criteria points had to be passed to gain the warrant of fitness (WOF).

Darryl Evans, from Mangere Budgeting Services Trust, which advocates for struggling tenants, said he was not surprised by the findings, describing some rental properties as "diabolical".

It was common to find properties with exposed electrical wires and plumbing issues, he said, adding one older person he is working with is living in a unit with no bathroom and only a bucket for a toilet.

Some landlords are reluctant to invest in their properties and many are not fully aware of their legal obligations, he said, and he called for mandatory registration of landlords as well as regular assessments for all rental homes.

"I really am for a building warrant of fitness, but it does have to [include] regulators out in the field making sure that landlords are meeting a certain set of criteria."

The pilot trial was conducted by a steering group, which included the University of Otago Wellington, NZ Green Building Council, the councils of the five cities tested and the Accident Compensation Corporation.

It was conducted amid increasing concern for the standard of rental stock in the country, and looked at weathertightness, insulation and ventilation, lighting, heating, condition of appliances and general building safety.

New Zealand Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said while some landlords could pick up their game, most were adhering to the Residential Tenancy Act providing safe, sanitary and clean properties.

"If they don't, they can be fined quite a lot of money."

Instead of a warrant of fitness, Mr King said three issues needed to be focussed on - "insulation, heating and ventilation".

"One of the best things we can do is to educate the tenant that they can complain about the property ... the tenant might like you and not want to bother you and so they don't tell you about these things that are going wrong."

He acknowledged that many properties failed the test, but "most of those were on small things".

While 94 per cent of the inspected homes failed, around 36 per cent would require only a few minor fixes, estimated to cost between $50 and $150, to pass the WOF, the trial's organisers said.

"Ideally we would love to have a mandatory warrant of fitness for rental housing, we would like to have support from central government, because we feel it's really important to improve substandard housing for the health of our population, particularly the low income people and those with young children who are over-represented," said Dr Julie Bennett from the University of Otago Wellington, the spokeswoman for the steering group.

"But without that happening, we'd like to go ahead and introduce a voluntary scheme and hopefully in time we'll get support for a mandatory scheme."

The group will now begin discussions with the councils involved to refine the assessment, and work out how it might be rolled out.

Landlords involved in the trial were "all really positive" about the assessment, she said, and supported the idea of a WOF.

- 144 properties inspected, aged from the 1880s to less than 10-years-old, and ranging from detached houses to apartments. Most were private rentals (about 70 per cent) with around 30 per cent council-owned. None were state-owned.

- The inspection checklist looked at 31 areas.

- The average time to inspect properties was 51 minutes.

- The majority of properties (94 per cent) failed at least one criteria on the checklist - meaning only eight properties passed the WOF.

- Top five failed criteria:

* 40 per cent of houses did not pass the water temperature check.

* 30 per cent of bedrooms did not have a working smoke alarm within thre metres of the bedroom.

* 31 per cent of houses lacked code-compliant handrails and balustrades.

* 37 per cent of houses did not have a fixed form of heating.

* 38 per cent of houses did not pass the security stays check.

- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ; additional reporting by Rebecca Quilliam


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