New Zealand Property Investors' Federation

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Rental home WOF on the cards

The idea of some form of regulation to improve mouldy or chilly homes gained traction yesterday when Labour had a private member's bill pulled from the ballot.

MP Phil Twyford's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill calls for non-polluting heating and insulation in all rental properties.

Housing Minister Nick Smith has asked officials to research the idea of a rental WOF but has said his priority is bringing state housing up to scratch.

Unwilling to wait for central government, councils in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin have been working on their own rental housing codes.

Wellington City Council senior policy adviser Zach Rissel said the councils were close to finishing a draft assessment tool and were seeking private landlords to trial the standards.

Everything was up for discussion, but proper drainage, functioning toilets, hot and cold water and weathertightness were considered basics, Rissel said.

A senior Auckland Council policy adviser confirmed the four cities were working together.

It is unclear whether the councils would keep their rental standards voluntary or make them a bylaw.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has publicly backed the rental WOF concept, but Dunedin is believed to be the only council seeking a legal opinion on making a WOF mandatory.

Landlord groups have greeted the idea of being forced to upgrade their houses with cautious support.

The Wellington branch president of the Property Council, Andrew Hay, said anything that improved the rental housing stock was good in theory, but he hoped any rental WOF would be voluntary.

"I think at the time when there's a shortage of housing around the country, to create another cost on housing might not be in the best interests of the housing market in the widest sense."

He said a voluntary WOF could work if tenants demanded it, in the same way as they expected to know a building's seismic rating.

New Zealand Property Investors Federation president Andrew King said he preferred Twyford's bill to more wide-ranging rental WOF proposals.

"If any regulation was going to occur, then insulation and heating seem to be the two areas which will provide the biggest benefit for the tenant and the biggest cost saving for the Government." Insulation would put the rent up, but not as much as a WOF that required regular rental inspections, he said.

King said officials should give serious thought to making insulation and heating tax-deductible. "You can't even depreciate it any more."

A survey of his members had shown the modest take-up of government insulation subsidies among landlords had largely been because of the cost of installation.

"It was cheaper for them to buy the materials themselves and pay someone to install it than go through the government scheme," he said.

Bruce Gordon, chief executive of heating and ventilation company HRV, said: "We believe the key is to help landlords by educating and incentivising them to make a change."

Stuff website 25 October 2013

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