By Frank Newman on 22nd March 2014
A pilot warrant of fitness regime for rental properties is currently under way. The WoF field test involves the Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin councils, ACC, NZ Green Building Council, and the University of Otago.
According to their website, the New Zealand Green Building Council is “a not-for-profit, industry organisation dedicated to accelerating the development and adoption of market-based green building practices.” The influence ACC and the Green Building Council have had on the 31 point checklist is obvious. NZ Property Investors’ Federation is not part of the reference group, and to date the Minister of Housing has not replied to a question asking why landlords were excluded.
The trial involves 125 private and state or council owned rentals (25 in each city). While the scheme is a trial at this stage and the 31 criteria are in draft form, landlords should not kid themselves about the potential cost and intrusions they will face when this scheme becomes law, as is likely. Nor should they be comforted by the soothing assurances from Nick Smith, the Minister of Housing.
In my view it is no coincidence that the Ministry of Housing has engaged local councils in the pilot – by doing so he has gained a useful ally, knowing full well that local councils will support the proposal so they can take on the job of WoF inspectors and gain a new perpetual income stream.
The realities are as follows:
- The viability of your rental will be in the hands of a bureaucrat. If in their opinion your rental has inadequate space for food preparation, the bathroom is not suitably located, the space heating is not effective, the lighting is not adequate, or the house is not in a reasonable state of repair, then you will have to do what they say or lose the right to rent out your property.
All of these subjective judgements will be taken from you and your tenant and given to someone with a clip board; someone who may well be fresh out of university with a resource management degree on their wall and a commitment in their heart to protect society from landlords who they see as being evil and greedy (unfortunately I am not exaggerating).
- The cost of the inspections will be passed onto you, the landlord. Expect the fee to be relatively low at the start (to minimise resistance), then rise once the scheme has become embedded within the bureaucracy. Most landlords are likely to pass the job of dealing with the regulators to their property manager, so not only will the landlord end up paying the WoF inspection fee, but for their property manager’s time as well. At present each review is taking about an hour.
- Having introduced a regulatory regime for landlords, it will inevitably become the mechanism through which landlords and the rental sector are controlled in the future. It would be naïve to assume vested interest groups will not zero in on this to advance their agendas, and even more naïve to assume political parties will not do so. Landlords don’t have any political allies. They are an easy target for politicians, particularly those who base their platform on the pretence of speaking on behalf of societies less fortunate. Unfortunately National is no friend either – it is they who is introducing the WoF scheme.
- If landlords think they can side-step the regulations, they should think again. It will become unlawful to rent a property without first obtaining a WoF, and all existing rental properties are already known to the authorities as they are on the Bond Centre database.
Landlords should be outraged by this new proposal. The scheme will open the door to state control of the rental market. This is already evident from the draft criteria which applies the new building code to existing rental properties, but not existing owner-occupied dwellings. For example, an older home is likely to have deck handrails at 800mm high. Under the WoF regime, they would need to comply with the new 1000mm standard.
Landlords should start standing up for themselves. Start by writing to your local MP and ask them to speak out for you – that is, after all, their well-paid job.
THE WoF CHECKLIST
- Is there a functional, safe stove-top and oven?
- Is there adequate space for food preparation and storage?
- Is there an adequate supply of hot and cold potable water?
- Is the hot water at the tap 55C (+ or – 5C?)
- Is there a functional toilet, which does not have a cracked or broken seat, cistern or bowl?
- Is there a suitably located bath or shower in good working order?
- Are there secure or high level cupboards or shelves for storing hazardous or toxic substances out of children’s reach?
- Is there a fixed form of safe and effective space heating?
- Do the bathroom, kitchen and all bedrooms have some form of ventilation to outside?
- Is the house reasonable free of visible mould, i.e. the total area of mould is less than an A4 sheet of paper?
- Are the power outlets and light switches safe and in good working order?
- Is there adequate indoor lighting?
- Does the house have adequate working smoke alarms?
- Have the windows got effective latches?
- Have high windows got security stays?
- Are there curtains or blinds in the bedrooms and living areas?
- Do glass doors have safety visibility strips?
- Does the house have thermoplastic insulated cabling?
- Does the house have ceiling insulation to WoF standards?
- Does the house have underfloor insulation to WoF standards?
- Is the house watertight with no evident leaks, or moisture stains on the walls or ceiling?
- Is a ground vapour barrier installed under the ground floor?
- Is the house in a reasonable state of repair?
- Is the storm and waste water drainage being adequately discharged?
- Is there any water ponding under the house?
- Is there outdoor lighting near entrance ways?
- Does the house appear to be structurally sound?
- Are there handrails for all internal stairs and all outdoor steps that access the house, and do balconies/decks have balustrades to the current Building Code?
- Is there fire egress to the current Building Code?
- Is the address clearly labelled and identifiable?
- Are there securely locking doors?