State house repair bill hard to recover

22:46, Mar 05 2014
Housing NZ flats
RUN DOWN: A vacant Housing New Zealand home that has been damaged as it has sat empty over the past few years.

Housing New Zealand struggles to make tenants pay for trashed state homes, often because they have already left.

Speaking before the Social Services Select Committee today, HNZ chief executive Glen Sowry said recovering the "ten of millions" in debt remain a "significant challenge".

Trashed state homes had often already been abandoned by its tenants when HNZ turned up and even if they could be tracked down, their ability to pay was limited, he said.

"I visited a property that Titahi Bay ... which two weeks prior had been in perfect condition. When I went through it there had been over $30,000 of damage."

Mr Sowry faced questions from MPs over a report today of a crackdown on state housing tenants who damage their homes.

Labour's Housing spokesman Phil Twyford suggested that most of the damage was "wear and tear" rather than deliberate damage.


But Mr Sowry said a significant proportion of last year's $15 million damage bill was intentional.

The planned crackdown comes as Housing New Zealand records show state home tenants and their visitors in Wellington have been asked for more than $2 million to cover damage after a period of assessment towards the end of last year.

Nationwide, four state-owned homes had to be demolished in 2012-13 after chemical damage caused by drug labs rendered them too dangerous to live in.

About a tenth of Housing New Zealand's 200,000 tenants still have damage debt owing, according to figures released by Housing NZ under the Official Information Act.

In 2012, the cost of fixing damaged state houses was about $15m - which was double the amount from five years earlier.

By October last year, Housing NZ already had 7000 tenant-damaged properties on its books, for which it had to spend $16.2m in three months.

The majority of the damage repair bill was for fair wear and tear, natural disaster and fire repairs.

However, Housing Minister Nick Smith said he wanted a crackdown on people who wilfully wrecked homes.

"I have been concerned about the high level of property damage by a minority of tenants to Housing New Zealand properties. I had some particularly ugly examples and I ask the corporation to take a firmer approach," he said.

A suspension policy for troublesome tenants meant people could be barred from living in a state home for up to a year.

In Wellington, tenants owed a total $40,421 at October 2013 for damage to state homes they wrecked and deserted.

Tenants' visitors were also being asked to pay up for almost $40,000 of damage they caused to the capital's state houses.

A further $76,441 could not be pinned on anyone because it could not be proved who caused the damage.



The 10 most expensive damage bills for Housing New Zealand properties between October 2012 and 2013 were caused by fires, and the next four from houses demolished after they had been used as drug labs.

Four houses in the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes had to be written off due to fire damage, as did two in Porirua.

Four houses containing drug labs - two in Auckland and two in Tauranga - had to be demolished at a total cost of almost $230,000.


The Dominion Post