Not all Taranaki homeowners plan to fix their home’s warrant of fitness issues – Jane Matthews

Even after being told their houses weren’t up to scratch homeowners weren’t convinced they needed to fix the problems, a study in Taranaki has found.

The University of Otago study found that 92 percent of the homes they commissioned assessments for failed, and not all owners planned to amend their home’s health and safety issues.

The assessments, which took place in 2017 but have only just been published in a report, found 76 of the 83 Taranaki homes surveyed with the university’s ‘warrant of fitness’ (Wof) failed.

Wise Better Homes, a non-profit charitable trust that installs insulation in the Taranaki region, organised trained assessors to carry out the assessments.

The Wof is a pass or fail tool that consists of 29 criteria that researchers believe have an important impact on health, safety energy efficiency.

In terms of components related to safety, most properties passed the criteria for lighting, power outlets and light switches, and intact wall, ceiling, and floor linings.

Among injury hazards, it was most common for properties to fail the following criteria: having paths, decks, and surfaces non-slippery and free of moss and having window security stays where required in the living area.

The study arose to see if homeowners would make voluntary improvements to their homes if they failed the Wof.

And when homeowners were interviewed after they received a report highlighting their property’s issues it was found not all planned to amend everything.

Of the 40 homeowners interviewed in the study, 31 planned to fix at least one of the issues.

However, many said they would not fix all the failings of their homes.

Researchers found participants were least likely to address issues such as security stays on windows and absence of ground vapour barrier.

For some cost was a factor, whereas others didn’t believe that the identified improvement would make a difference to health and safety in the home.

Report co-author Dr Lucy Telfar-Barnard said in a media release this shows the importance of knowledge to encourage housing improvements.

“Some people said they wouldn’t install a ground vapour barrier because it was dry under the house – not realising that even dry ground releases damp which rises into homes,” Telfar-Barnard said.

“Providing people with information on just how each housing defect affects health and safety may encourage people to make improvements.”

The researchers highlighted the importance of understanding the risks of the wof failings, and the need for potential funding support.

“Providing funding support to make improvements, as well as additional information to explain how improvements are likely to boost the health and safety of occupants and of visitors, could encourage owners to make improvements that have demonstrated health and safety benefits,” the report read.

Despite the majority of the homes failing their inspections overall they had passed the majority of the 29 items.

The research was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

Rental properties ‘could end up better than landlords’ homes’ – Susan Edmunds

Rental property rule changes could mean landlords end up offering tenants better quality homes than they live in themselves, a group representing investors says.

Stop the War on Tenancies has been founded to tackle the Government’s plans to overhaul the rental property sector.

Standards are being worked on that will set out the rental property insulation and heating requirements of the Health Homes Guarantee Act.  The Government is also working through a proposed revamp of the Residential Tenancies Act, to give tenants more rights.

Stop the War on Tenancies spokesman Mike Butler said it was likely rental properties could end up a higher standard than some of the homes of those who owned.

Investor Lily Leung agreed some tenants would be living in “far better” conditions than their landlord’s own home.

“But that’s not the concern. The concern is that owners are being forced to waste money on things that are not even necessary in most cases… fixed heaters tenants won’t even use, certain standards of insulation that will make no difference.

“Homes are often not damp, it’s the way the tenants live that’s the issue.”

Andrew King, executive officer of the New Zealand Property Investors Federation said his organization’s biggest worry about the Healthy Homes changes was the suggestion that heat pumps could be mandatory.

He said they were expensive to install and maintain and such a rule would lead to rent rises. “[The Government] wants them because they are more efficient to run but by the time the rent goes up to cover the cost, it kind of negates that argument.”

Investor Nick Gentle said there would be unintended consequences.

“What I don’t understand is why it isn’t being extended to all housing,” he said.

“Property owners facing an upgrade now have two choices, spend the thousands required to meet the new standards or sell. If they sell, a homeowner can buy without being concerned about standards because they don’t apply.

“So this creates two markets and one buyer has an extra large cost to consider that the other does not and has to factor that into their price. All things being equal the property will stay out of the rental pool until someone who owns it makes the upgrades or an investor is able to purchase it at a price where they can spend the extra money and still cover their costs.”

He said, for people in bigger cities, the cost of upgrading a house would be a small percentage of its value. But elsewhere, the cost could be 5 percent of the price of the house and would take years to recover.

He said he expected to see the end of the “cheap rental”.  “A colleague saw the coming changes, decided stuff it and has completely upgraded all of his properties. Insulation, new carpet, paint, kitchens, heating etc. None of his previous tenants can afford to live there now and have moved elsewhere.”

Butler pointed to proposals that the Healthy Homes standards require landlords to provide heaters able to maintain a temperature of either 18C or 20C.

“There’s an assumption that if you’re in a property that is not of that temperature you’re in an unhealthy environment. But most people don’t have a set temperature unless they set a heat pump. Most people have lived in a wide range of temperatures and have done so for years and have lived healthy lives,” he said.

Claire Leadbetter, policy manager for tenancy and rental housing quality at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said it was not possible to predict the exact market impact from the Healthy Homes standards and other reforms.

“Many factors will influence whether a landlord chooses to increase the rent of their rental property. It is possible that some landlords could increase the rent they charge a tenant to offset the costs incurred from upgrading their properties.

“If rent is increased to a level that substantially exceeds market rates, a tenant may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for a reduction. The RTA reform looks at options to improve this process.”

She said the Warm Up New Zealand (WUNZ) evaluation found the installation of new insulation reduced hospitalizations for occupants, but the incremental gain from heating appliances was small after accounting for the gain provided by insulation.

She said a cost-benefit analysis had been conducted to inform the development of the discussion document on the Healthy Homes Standards, which included the temperature suggestions.

“Heating devices would need to be capable of achieving a minimum indoor temperature in rooms covered by the heating standard. This would not be a requirement to heat to those temperatures.”

A survey in 2015 found that 22 percent of rental properties had no fixed heating compared to 7 percent of owner-occupied.

Susan Edmunds