A new rental "Warrant of Fitness" (WoF) is being developed by the University of Otago, Wellington, and the Wellington and Dunedin City Councils. The project has been funded by the Health Research Council to ensure basic standards such as ventilation, heating, safety and hygiene are met for rental properties.
The University of Otago, Wellington is working with Wellington and Dunedin City Councils on a rental Warrant of Fitness (WoF) to be introduced next year.
He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme based at the University of Otago, Wellington, has been funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand to study the effects of introducing a rental housing WoF. A rental WoF would require basic standards for things like ventilation, heating, safety and hygiene in a rental property.
The Government has recently moved to require insulation and smoke alarms in all rentals, but University of Otago, Wellington researcher Dr Lucy Telfar Barnard says extensive research shows that more comprehensive measures are needed.
“The new requirements are a good start, but lack of insulation and smoke alarms aren’t the only health risks in homes. We also need basic standards for the other things like ventilation, heating and safety,” Dr Telfar Barnard says.
He Kainga Oranga will measure how a WoF affects the rental market and tenant health in Wellington and Dunedin, compared with control cities Lower Hutt and Invercargill, which are not planning to introduce a rental WOF at this stage.
Nearly half of all New Zealanders live in rental accommodation, which is on average older than owner-occupied dwellings, built to older less-stringent building codes, and less well maintained.
The Children’s Commission has called for a rental WoF to help improve children’s health and education.
Dunedin City Council is hoping the rental WoF can help to address the approximately 18,000 homes in the city which are not warm or dry enough to keep people healthy and comfortable at a reasonable cost, while Wellington City Mayor Celia Wade-Brown sees it as part of a range of initiatives to increase the quality and affordability of housing.
“We must increase the quality and affordability of our housing, particularly for vulnerable people including our students, frail elderly, and young entrepreneurs and families dependent on rental housing.
“Sub-standard housing that fails to meet basic health and safety standards is just not acceptable,” Celia Wade-Brown says.
Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith was reported on 11 December 2015 as saying that Councils have the power to deal with unhealthy homes under building and tenancy laws, and he encourages Councils to use them.
The Tenancy Tribunal has also said it would welcome comprehensive standards set for rental housing, to make the law clearer for its adjudicators. He Kainga Oranga has been collaborating with Victoria University law academic Dr Mark Bennett to identify the best regulatory options for councils.
He Kainga Oranga is planning to complete the research in time to inform government policy before insulation and smoke alarms become mandatory for all rentals in 2019.
As well as health and economic outcomes, the research will look at landlord experiences, including whether the WoF helps landlords identify priorities for maintenance and upgrades.
“The poor quality of rental housing in New Zealand is one of our fundamental on-going problems, contributing to our shocking child health figures and the poorer educational performance of some of our children.” says Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman from the University of Otago, Wellington.
“This cumulative disadvantage can only be addressed by raising the quality of all rental housing by working out the practicalities and business case for introducing a rental warrant of fitness,” she says.
Mayor of Dunedin Dave Cull says, “We know that families who live in poor quality housing spend a high proportion of their money on energy bills. Or, those unable to afford to heat their home sufficiently suffer poor health outcomes as a result.
“Our city has an ambitious goal of making sure that everyone in Dunedin lives in a warm and cosy home by 2015. Having a rental warrant of fitness or minimum standards for rental housing would be a very positive step towards this goal,” he says.
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