Warrant of Fitness for rentals

MARIETTE KNUDSEN
Last updated 12:00 08/09/2012

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OPINION: Minimum standards for rental accommodation to ensure they are safe and warm for kids is one of the recommendations in a Children's Commissioner's call for a Child Poverty Act in New Zealand.

As a mother and grandmother, I am very concerned about child poverty, but I have to question whether a Warrant of Fitness is the best way to alleviate this issue.

We already have legislation in place with regard to building standards and recent changes to the 2010 Residential Tenancy Act put penalties on landlords whose properties are not up to standard.

One third of all homes in New Zealand are rentals, which equates to 440,000 privately-owned rentals and 68,000 government-owned or state houses.

Who would be administering this Warrant of Fitness and at what cost?

One of my worst fears is, that combined with the increasing insurance, rates and depreciation costs, the added WoF costs will make rental investment unattractive to landlords.

As a consequence, they will withdraw from the market reducing the number of available rentals and, as market conditions apply, fewer rental properties will force rents up.

My experience here in Marlborough is that the market itself has dictated changes.

Excellent television advertisements have increased the awareness of the needs of healthy homes and as a consequence prospective tenants will now ask if a property is insulated and heated. Most are happy to pay a little more to have a warm home.

Our landlords are investors who are doing everything possible to ensure that their properties are presented well to achieve desired rents and full occupancy.

Many of them have taken advantage of the Energy Wise scheme, insulating and installing heat pumps in their rentals.

They are already reaping the benefit of these improvements by retaining their tenants and having full occupancy over the cooler winter months.

They are also adding another selling point if they should decide to sell the property later on.

Conversely, the older, unheated and un-insulated homes have a much higher vacancy rate.

It has to be remembered that it is not only privately-owned rental accommodation that should be subject to a Warrant of Fitness.

I was interested to read that in the Waikato, 70 per cent of all children in poverty live in rental accommodation.

Fifty per cent of Waikato rental homes are privately owned, the other 50 per cent are state houses.

The remaining 30 per cent of children living in poverty must be living in privately-owned homes.

I wonder if this Warrant of Fitness will extend to all homes in New Zealand.

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Mariette Knudsen is senior property manager at Mark Stevenson First National Real Estate

 

EXPRESS YOURSELF

Houses should pass a Warrant of Fitness before landlords can look for tenants, the Children’s Commissioner recommends as a way to address child poverty in New Zealand. What do people on the street think?

Innocent Molatlhwe, refrigeration technician, Blenheim

Yes, I think heating in the houses is important. There should be a certain criteria to make sure houses are habitable. New houses have to pass a council approval before you can go and live in them. Rental houses could get handled like that. It shouldn’t be mandatory for home owners to have good heating and insulation in houses where they are living, though. Just because someone owns a house doesn’t mean they have enough money to maintain it.

Russell Harris, retired, Christchurch

In Australia they have to have a ‘‘Warrant of Fitness’’, especially on the Gold Coast. We have rental properties there and tenants can make complaints. Landlords have to ensure that showers don’t have mould, there’s no leaking and flooring has good covering. I think that could work in New Zealand – tenants pay enough rent now. Rents in Christchurch are terrible! Some people rent a house all their life and it’s not their fault they have to rent if they lose their jobs or something like that.

Sigrun Hengstler, business owner, Waihopai Valley

For everybody who rents a house, it should be a condition the house is liveable. If you rent something that’s the point – you want to have it in a condition that people can have a civilised standard of living. It’s people’s responsibility; I’m not sure you can translate that by the government putting rules out. To improve life for poor children they should help families learn to budget and manage a family so children don’t suffer.

The generation that seems to suffer most seems to be this generation that has not learned to budget or cook meals at home.

Ashleigh Vickers, student, Ngatea, Hauraki Plains

I think that everybody should have a fair shot. These are New Zealand people; we need to look after them a lot better. Where I live rental houses are mainly farm cottages and they usually have log burners, although people are slowly installing heat pumps. Rental-house WoFs would probably be like cars. You still have people who try and sneak away and don’t have one. They need to focus on things like heating or even just insulation

- The Marlborough Express

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