Minimum standards for rentals considered

Last updated 13:17 07/03/2013

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Housing Minister Nick Smith has asked officials to do some initial groundwork on a warrant of fitness for all rental properties.

However, the minister has stressed that if such a policy was rolled out, state housing should be brought up to standard first.

A spokesman for Smith said the first priority would be to settle on what a minimum standard would be.

"They'd obviously need to address the state housing sector first, and then if they feel comfortable with that, they would then look into the private sector where there's government subsidies being paid towards the tenants who are in these homes," he said.

A rental "warrant of fitness" - a baseline for housing including adequate insulation - was proposed in December by an expert advisory group on child poverty, led by Children's Commissioner Russell Wills.

The group found 70 per cent of children living in poverty did so in rental housing.

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, a noted researcher into health and housing at Otago University, said there was a consistent relationship between private rental properties and poor health.

She was glad Dr Smith had taken more interest in the topic, which had been floated for a number of years. But she hoped the Government would also act quickly, noting there was plenty of data now available to work out the costs and benefits.

"It's good that it's surfaced again, but I just hope they're able to follow through," she said.

Professor Howden-Chapman said housing standards for rental properties were common in many countries, and although landlords would argue against the possible cost, she said the country already paid for poor housing in other ways.

"You pay for it in ACC payments, you pay for it in hospitalisation and if people's houses aren't insulated, not only do they pay more for electricity, but they're using electricity at times of peak demand," she said.

"So it costs the country at times of shortage."

A 2010 housing conditions survey by BRANZ, the Building Research Association, included private rental housing for the first time and found that just 40 per cent of all the houses surveyed were in good or excellent condition.

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