The poor quality of New Zealand’s rental housing is finally getting the attention it deserves. People seem to agree that our housing is having terrible effects on health, and that it’s not right.
It never rains but it pours trials for regulating rental housing quality. Local and central government are presently conducting quite separate trials for quite separate Warrants of Fitness (WOF). So perhaps it’s not so strange that the media is confused. The New Zealand Herald discussed the Government’s WOF trial, and said it should extend to private rentals, yet omitted to mention that a trial for that just that is already going on. Conversely, we’ve got the Manawatu Standard discussing the councils’ WOF and omitting to mention the Government’s WOF.
The first is a trial WOF assessment of 125 private rental houses. This WOF was developed by Otago University’s He Kainga Oranga (Health and Housing Research Programme) and the New Zealand Green Building Council, with input from five councils, ACC and other researchers. He Kainga Oranga have done a lot of work to show the links between poor health and housing, and have spent the past decade assessing the best ways to measure the healthiness of a home. The researchers are working with five councils to do the trial. In the words of Leigh Featherstone of the Green Building Council, they “hope that by the end of this project there’ll be a working tool to rate rental standards nationally.”
The second trial WOF assessment is of 500 state houses. A WOF for all rental housing (state and private) was proposed by the Expert Advisory Group on Child Poverty. In the government’s response to that report, it said it would “consider the merits and practicalities” of a WOF. Soon after, as part of the Budget, the Government announced its intention “to get its own house in order first”: trial a WOF on state houses, and consider extending this to private rentals at a later date. It was announced yesterday that the government’s take on the WOF has been developed. Representatives from the BRANZ, Local Government NZ, Master Builders, the Property Investors Federation, DHBs, ACC, and EECA will provide advice on the WOF. It is expected that the results from this initial sample will allow the government to determine how many of its homes would meet the standards.
That’s the trials. Then there’s the legislation – laws that, if passed, could make such WOFs standard practice. WOFs are also being debated at local and central government level. A member’s bill, Labour’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, was recently drawn from the ballot and may come up for debate any day now. A Green’s Bill – the Energy Efficiency Conservation (Warm Healthy Rentals) Amendment Bill – is also in the ballot. Local governments do not have jurisdiction to implement laws for standards stricter than the Building Code, but they’re also getting involved. Dunedin and Wellington City Councils have announced the drafting of Local Bills that, if passed in Parliament, would allow them to regulate for rental housing quality.
I only hope that all the heat on this topic right now leads to warmer renters.