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Announcing another of the Greens' social policy priorities today, co-leader Metiria Turei said the Greens would advocate paying local councils $8 million a year for inspectors to check every rental property at least every three years, and more often for homes that do not come up to standard.
Homes would be checked for a full warrant of fitness including walls and ceilings being clear of mould, decent ventilation, a functional toilet, properly connected drains, safe electrical wiring, floor and ceiling insulation, proper heaters, and no cracks or holes in the building fabric.
The Greens would also reinstate a 33 per cent subsidy for insulation of any uninsulated home at a cost of $109 million a year - trebling the National Government's subsidy of $100 million over three years, which was restricted last year to cover only homes where the residents have community services cards.
By contrast, the Labour Party's "healthy homes guarantee" proposes to simply change the law to require all landlords to declare in tenancy agreements that their properties meet the minimum standards of insulation and efficient heating.
"It is now time to require all rental properties to be brought up to a minimum standard through a regulatory rule, rather than through future taxpayer subsidy," Labour said.
Ms Turei said regulation by itself would not work.
"The Green Party's warrant of fitness standard is more comprehensive - not only insulation and heating, but also hot and cold running water and [other basic standards]. These things are not actually required in the law and they should be," she said.
"The home insulation scheme has been enormously popular and over-subscribed, because the cost is quite high, and part of the reason for that is a failure of successive governments to make insulation part of the building code in the early years, or providing adequate support to help families insulate their homes.
"It's simply not responsible to now claim that the community is on their own. Actually we do have an obligation as a Government to make sure the housing stock is of high quality."
The Greens policy, unveiled today at the Salvation Army's Manukau branch, also includes a voluntary star rating scheme "to reward exceptionally good properties".
"Modelled on the Dunedin Student Tenancy Accommodation Rating Scheme (STARS) pilot, this would see landlords get one to five stars for things such as having solar panels, outside storage facilities (for example for bicycles) and wall insulation," the party says.
The Greens would change tenancy laws to give tenants a right of renewal of all tenancies unless tenants are evicted for grounds allowed in the law such as damage to the property or non-payment of rent.
Rent increases would be limited to no more than once a year and tenancy agreements would have to include a formula for calculating future rent increases.
"In Government, the Green Party will consult with the sector on the details of the formula, which is likely to allow for rent increases in the case of mortgage rate increases, significant improvements made to the house in question, and overall rent increases in the relevant region," the party says.
The party would end the National Government's decision to make all social housing tenancies reviewable, and instead would allow all social housing tenants to buy their homes progressively through a "progressive ownership" rent-to-buy scheme without having to pay either a deposit or a mortgage.
- By Simon Collins of the New Zealand Herald