Landlords bag housing WOF

A landlord group stands by its call for heating vouchers and insulation incentives instead of the rental housing "WOF" being proposed by a group of councils.

Five major councils have released the results of their field trials of a housing "warrant of fitness," which included insulation, lighting, and health and safety.

Nearly all the 144 houses assessed in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin and Tauranga failed at least one of the 31 requirements on the checklist.

But the WOF steering group said this was not unexpected and many of the failures were minor.

"They only failed on minor things like their hot water was too hot or they didn't have a lightbulb which was working," said steering group spokesperson Julie Bennett.

The steering group would meet in three weeks to get feedback from the councils and discuss how the WOF might be fine-tuned for national use, Bennett said.

There was no talk yet of making the WOF mandatory, she said.

"It is only a minimum standard, it's not double glazing and ventilation systems, and while there is a cost involved there's also hopefully going to be a reduction in healthcare costs."

Some of the requirements of the checklist did raise concerns with landlords including the need for compliant balustrades and handrails, and fixed heating such as heatpumps or woodburners.

Another requirement, for security stays on windows, has since been dropped.

Houses were also checked for both ceiling and underfloor insulation, where it was possible.

Twenty per cent of the houses in the field trial failed on both counts and 29 per cent did not have ceiling insulation up to the current building code.

Bennett agreed it would be difficult to compel landlords to insulate if they had not responded to Government grants.

"Ideally, I think it's going to need central government support."

Andrew King, president of the New Zealand Property Investor Federation, said the federation was very positive about insulation but said it was of no help if people were too poor to heat their houses.

He believed there were more effective ways to keep houses warm, including heating vouchers and tax deductions on insulation.

Landlords he'd spoken to were worried the WOF would be expensive, unnecessary and that they would almost certainly lead to rent rises.

"The biggest concern is that things are going to be added over time," he said.

Most of the matters raised in the WOFs were covered with other legislation, such as health and safety and the building code. One of the requirements was to have a working toilet.

"What tenant is going to rent a house without a working toilet?"

Bennett said WOF inspections were still expected to cost about $200 but two of the things that needed to be discussed was how often the assessments should happen and whether there would be enough assessors. Leigh Featherstone, director of the Green Building Council's Homestar rating programme, said he was unsurprised by the field trial's failure rate and the group now had a "good handle" on what worked.

"We probably put more criteria into the assessment than we're actually going to go forward with, and the reason for that is, you have to select the ones that are going to be the most effective and practical to implement."

However, he took a dim view of those who said ceiling and underfloor insulation would be too hard to impose on the country's 400,000 or so rental houses.

"Landlords are taking rents and they should be providing a home that's fit for purpose to live in. And I think there's no doubt about it, the general standard we expect now is that a home is well insulated."