Just 15 compliance officers to keep entire rental market in line
Just 15 officers are responsible for enforcing standards across the entire New Zealand rental market.
Building and construction minister Nick Smith said the number was sufficient to meet the "high risk" section of the market - like the squalid and overcrowded Auckland boarding houses making headlines recently.
The investigation and compliance unit, part of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), was launched last year.
"It has about 15 people, but it started from zero," Smith said.
* $250 rent per week, and the toilet's down the road at KFC
* We ask: Can you help little Julia?
* Gary Diaz: From jail to a boarding house and now back to jail
* Life inside one of south Auckland's notorious boarding houses
* Why we must break the cycle: families in trouble
Smith said that the 15 officers were enough to cover the private rental market of around 450,000 properties, as most tenancy issues were brought forward to the tenancy tribunal by renters themselves.
"The compliance and investigation unit focuses on the properties of the more vulnerable tenants, where they are unlikely to be able to take a case to the tenancy tribunal."
He noted that local councils also have the power to shut down unsafe rental housing.
Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford, who had just finished grilling Smith about housing at a select committee, said the number of officers was ridiculously low.
"It's a joke. It's a drop in the bucket. It's pathetic. There are hundreds if not thousands of boarding houses in Auckland alone and there is just no proper oversight or investigation," Twyford said.
He said Labour would set up a licensing scheme where boarding houses would have to register before operation.
"We will set up a positive licensing scheme where boarding house operators have to apply to be one."
A clear minimum standard would be set by MBIE and enforced by local councils.
Smith said a positive licensing scheme would be unnecessarily burdensome and complicated, as there was no clear definition of what a "boarding house" was.
SMITH GRILLED IN SELECT COMMITTEE
The buildings and construction minister faced a flood of criticism and queries from shadow housing minister Phil Twyford at the Social Services Select Committee on Wednesday.
Twyford said the Government was refusing to even properly assess the problem, let alone solve it.
The two went back and fourth on which estimate the government should trust, with Twyford advocating for Auckland Council's estimate that there is currently between 20,000 and 30,000 fewer houses than needed.
Smith said there were deficiencies with that number and that the best way to measure housing supply problems was with price - which had flat-lined in Auckland for months.
He noted that there had been six straight years of growth in residential construction, the longest consecutive amount on record.
Government construction of homes in 2016 was the highest it had been in 20 years.
"Six months ago your officials advised that the deficit in Auckland would continue until after 2030, have your officials changed their advice?" Twyford said, referring to a 2016 Treasury document based on MBIE figures.
"I don't accept that advice, and I don't accept that's what the official's advice was," Smith replied.
He said Twyford was deliberately misreading official advice.
"You are always able to pick out the odd number."
After Twyford moved on to talk about the infrastructure fund, Smith had one more barb for him.
"I do find it ironic that you spend half your time criticising me for not moving fast enough on getting new houses built and the other half the time arguing I'm not following correct process, which probably means I've got it about right."