State home repair bills blow out to $15m-plus

MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 12:36 04/08/2013

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Cracking down on damage to state houses is coming at an escalating cost.

The cost has doubled in the past five years, with more than $15 million in repairs made to Housing NZ properties last year alone. That's almost double the cost of the $7.9m worth of damage reported in the 2007-08 financial year.

Housing NZ says the increasing cost is due to staff improvement at recording damage and targeting high-risk properties. Last year alone the corporation identified a third of the country's state houses as damaged.

The corporation tries to recover all repair costs, but this can take years.

It gets harder to recoup fines when tenants leave and Housing NZ loses its leverage over the debtors, government relations manager Sharon Girvan says.

Around two-thirds of damage debt incurred in the last financial year remains outstanding, figures show. Up to $10m is yet to be collected from tenants and third parties for the repair work.

Around a third of the nation's 67,434 state houses - 24,841 - incurred intentional or accidental damage last year.

The Otara office paid the most in repairs at $1.2m. That was followed by Porirua and Kapiti at $1m, and much of the South Island, with Dunedin, Invercargill and West Coast collectively costing $941,775.

The largest single repair bill was $35,000 to test for methamphetamine, clean and redecorate a central Auckland house.

Housing NZ does not hold a blacklist of bad tenants but a suspensions policy prevents people from reapplying for state housing for up to a year after the termination of tenancy.

Currently 124 people are suspended from applying for state homes, and 71 suspensions are pending.

Girvan said the policy applied to serious breaches of tenancy agreements such as unlawful or antisocial behaviour, which includes damaging houses.

Of those who owed money for damage, more than 60 per cent had a repayment arrangement in place, Girvan said.

However, South Auckland community social worker Margaret Martin said, most state tenants were doing the best they could to care for their homes and families.

"The majority of tenants look after their properties and take pride in them."

She said Housing NZ seemed to have become less responsive to tenants' own property concerns in recent years.

The Wiri-based Sister of Mercy recently heard from a woman who waited more than a month to get a bathroom leak fixed.

She said tenants had the right to expect repairs and maintenance to be done reasonably quickly.

Other much-needed state properties had remained vacant for months, she said.

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Some needed repairs, and others were awaiting clearance to re-tenant after an occupant left abruptly. The vacant properties attracted vandals, she said.

DAMAGE CONTROL

Most damaged Housing New Zealand properties in 2011-12:

Central Auckland: $35,117 to test for methampetamine, cleaning and redecoration.

Manukau: $30,024 to replace kitchen and bathroom fittings, floor coverings, blinds and extensive cleaning.

Pt England: $29,832 to replace flooring, doors, wall linings, kitchen units, hardware and light fittings.

Grey Lynn: $26,467 to remove goods and extensive cleaning.

Papakura: $23,688 to replace doors, wall linings and flooring, reglazing and fumigation.

Martin said Housing NZ could lessen incidents of damage if they held regular inspections and were quicker to respond to concerns.

- Sunday Star Times

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