The Wellington City Council recently released a media statement confirming that a trial Rental Property Warrant of Fitness was going to be undertaken during February. Local Authorities in Auckland, Tauranga, Christchurch and Dunedin are also taking part in the trial.
The case for introducing such a scheme is that it will improve the health of tenants, particularly children. The Council claims that such a scheme has been operating in the United Kingdom since 2001, however this is not strictly true.
The UK scheme is called the Housing Health and Safety Rating Scheme and is very similar to the NZ situation, except that they have a specific tool to rate rental properties.
Unlike the proposal for a New Zealand WOF, the UK version is not compulsory for all properties, with inspections being initiated by tenants contacting their local Council. This is similar to NZ, where tenants can contact their local Council or Tenancy Services and the Tenancy Tribunal.
The UK system provides a means of rating the seriousness of hazards in the home, so it is possible to differentiate between major and minor hazards. This differs from the NZ proposal which is intended to be a pass or fail system.
UK inspectors generate a hazard score for each hazard they discover and, if the hazard scores are large enough, the landlord is requested to fix the hazards within a certain time frame. This is different from the NZ proposal which says that a rental property cannot be tenanted without a current WOF.
The UK assessment doesn't consider the current occupants, but considers potential risks in relation to the most vulnerable group of people who might occupy or visit the dwelling. This most vulnerable group is usually children under 5 and adults over 60 years of age. The NZ proposal will also follow this procedure, which potentially could see some rental properties which are perfectly acceptable for older children and adults under 60, being unable to be rented out. This could severely affect the supply of rental property.
As an example, stairs in a rental property that are deemed too steep for the young and old may be perfectly safe for others, but could no longer be rented out.
There is no denying the good intentions of rental property WOF proponents. The Children's Commissioner is quite rightly concerned about the health of children and the Accident Compensation Commission wants fewer injuries in the home. While most people will agree with these aspirations, is a rental property WOF the best way to achieve them? If the outcomes are so important then surely they are just as important for home owners as well as tenants.
While the NZPIF supports good living standards for tenants, we do not support poorly targeted and expensive proposals that many tenants would not want at all, let alone want to pay for. As it currently considerably cheaper to rent than to own your home, there is little doubt that the cost of regulatory changes will eventually be borne by the tenants.