First results released in a collaborative project aimed at making rental housing safer, healthier and more energy efficient

First results released in a collaborative project aimed at making rental housing safer, healthier and more energy efficient

Only 6% of rental houses passed all criteria in a trial Warrant of fitness (WOF) test just conducted under the auspices of local councils, the ACC the NZ Green Building Council and the University of Otago.

Some 144 rental houses in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin were tested on 31 criteria (see list below), with the assessments taking on average a little under an hour. A detailed question-and-answer paper on the tests can be seen here.

Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said the fact that "more than 90% of rental properties in a pilot project have failed a Warrant of Fitness check" indicated the Government needed to urgently tackle housing standards in the private rental market (see statement below).

Of the homes tested, just eight met all the criteria, though the trial organisers said that most dwellings failed on only a "handful" of the 31 inspection targets on the WOF checklist. Around 36% of homes would pass all the criteria in the draft WOF checklist after "just a few minor and inexpensive fixes".

The most common item that houses did not pass was water temperature, with 40% of the properties tested having water that was either too hot or too cold.

The next most common, at 38%, was properties not having security stays on their windows, followed by 37% of houses not having a fixed form of heating.

Items attracting most of the attention during this testing phase included whether houses indeed needed a ‘fixed’ form of heating such as a heat pump or a wood burner in order to ‘pass’ the WOF.

Other significant failures were 30% of houses not having working smoke alarms situation within 3-metres of bedrooms.

There were no significant regional differences in the results.

This "pilot" project aimed to test whether draft warrant of fitness (WOF) checklists and methodologies were practical for landlords, assessors and tenants.

The rental housing WOF field trial involved the Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin councils, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) and the University of Otago, Wellington. The trial tested a range of criteria that could potentially be included in a housing WOF. It aimed to identify aspects such as average assessment times and how to best communicate results to landlords and tenants.

The assessment tool was developed by the NZGBC and the University of Otago, Wellington, with feedback and input from the five councils, and ACC.

The field trial has not resulted in the immediate issue of a WOF for each home, but it is an important step towards standardising methodologies and checklists to ensure the credibility of any national WOF scheme.

A spokesperson for the steering group behind the WOF survey trial, Julie Bennett from the University of Otago Wellington, said work was now under way to tweak the WOF checklist.

"We have received good feedback from landlords, tenants and the assessors and we are now going back to look at the checklist and criteria to make sure we have a robust and usable housing WOF for the rental market."

Bennett said landlords, assessors and tenants provided valuable information during the field trial.

"The trial was really important so that we could gain an understanding about what is going to work for landlords, assessors and tenants. For a housing WOF to work, it has to add value for the landlords and we needed to actually trial the draft WOF checklist and methodology."

She said the majority of landlords interviewed were "supportive" of the idea of a WOF, though they tended to have "conditions" with their support.

Some of the comments that were received from landlords about the WOF booking process and process in general included:

  1. The WOF process needs clearer steps and longer timeframe to make an appointment.
  2. It would be easier if there was an electronic option for arranging assessments.
  3. It would be easier if assessor were more flexible in when they operated (i.e. undertaking assessments on weekends or outside the normal work day).
  4. Some assessors had to reschedule appointment times and this created more work for the landlord.
  5. More effort needs to be made to provide the WOF checklist in advance to landlords so they have a chance to make fixes before the assessment.
  6. Information on exact requirements (i.e. for where alarms go, insulation specifications, legal requirements) would be really helpful.
  7. It would be more convenient to conduct assessments between tenancies.
  8. It would be convenient to link the WOF assessment with regular tenancy inspection.

After the inspection system has been refined it will be presented to the participating councils for discussion.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says, with a third of New Zealanders living in rental accommodation, the trial had underscored that a rental housing WOF system would be highly useful to potential renters.

"The work so far shows real progress is possible in our efforts to ensure tenants have healthy and safe homes and that landlords maintain good minimum standards. I look forward to the next stage where we can apply this initiative more broadly, particularly in the most vulnerable communities."

In terms of the next steps for the project, the partners in the project aim to:

  • Share the results of the trial, including reporting back to relevant councils
  • Get endorsement/agreement from participating councils on the next steps
  • Continue discussions with Central Government to work towards one WOF tool for NZ
  • Finalise checklists and methodologies
  • Investigate next steps for introduction of a voluntary WOF scheme.

Here's the full list of assessment criteria

1. Is there a functional, safe stove-top and oven? (Yes/no)
2. Is there adequate space for food preparation and storage? (Yes/no)
3. Is there an adequate supply of hot and cold potable water? (Yes/no)
4. Is the hot-water at the tap 55°C (±5°C?) (Yes/no)
5. Is there a functional toilet, which does not have a cracked or broken seat, cistern or bowl? (Yes/no)
6. Is there a suitably located bath or shower in good working order? (Yes/no)
7. Are there secure or high level cupboards or shelves for storing hazardous or toxic substances out of children's reach? (Yes/no)
8. Is there a fixed form of safe and effective space heating? (Yes/no)
9. Do the bathroom, kitchen and all bedrooms have some form of ventilation to outside? (Yes/no)
10. Is the house reasonably free of visible mould, i.e. the total area of mould is less than an A4 sheet of paper? (Yes/no)
11. Are the power outlets and light switches safe and in good working order? (Yes/no)
12. Is there adequate indoor lighting? (Yes/no)
13. Does the house have adequate working smoke alarms? (Yes/no)
14. Have the windows got effective latches? (Yes/no)
15. Have high windows got security stays? (Yes/no)
16. Are there curtains or blinds in the bedrooms and living area? (Yes/no)
17. Do glass doors have safety visibility strips? (Yes/no)
18. Does the house have thermoplastic insulated cabling? (Yes/no)
19. Does the house have ceiling insulation to WOF standards? (Yes/no)
20. Does the house have underfloor insulation to WOF standards? (Yes/no)
21. Is the house weathertight with no evident leaks, or moisture stains on the walls or ceiling? (Yes/no)
22. Is a ground vapour barrier installed under the ground floor? (Yes/no)
23. Is the house in a reasonable state of repair? (Yes/no)
24. Is the storm and waste water drainage being adequately discharged? (Yes/no)
25. Is there any water ponding under the house? (Yes/no)
26. Is there adequate outdoor lighting near entrance ways? (Yes/no)
27. Does the house appear to be structurally sound? (Yes/no)
28. 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? (Yes/no)
29. Is there fire egress to the current Building Code? (Yes/no)
30. Is the address clearly labelled and identifiable? (Yes/no)
31. Are there securely locking doors? (Yes/no)

Labour's housing spokesperson Phil Twyford had this to say:

Labour’s Healthy Homes Guarantee needed now

Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says the fact that more than 90% of rental properties in a pilot project have failed a Warrant of Fitness check indicates the Government needs to urgently tackle housing standards in the private rental market.

“A year ago the Government announced a pilot WoF scheme with its own state houses, completely missing the point that the problem of unhealthy homes is most acute in the private rental sector where several hundred thousand children are growing up in cold, damp homes.

“A disturbing result from this new survey is that 37% of houses did not pass the check for having a fixed form of heating.

“If the Government was serious about tackling this problem they would back Labour’s Healthy Homes Guarantee. It will require all rental properties to meet minimum standards for insulation and to have an efficient and effective heating source. My Healthy Homes Member’s Bill, waiting for its first reading in Parliament, is the quickest, easiest way to make this change.

“Labour applauds the latest initiative on the rental WoF. This report indicates the landlords engaged positively with the WoF, and that the approach is workable.”

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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I wonder how the 6% would compare to owner occupied housing?
My house would fail - doesn't have the security stays on all windows - but is perfectly livable.

my old house would fail too. it doesn't have built in expresso machine and wall bracket for 60" 3D LCD TVs

Just looking in a magazine at the multi-squillion dollar houses that won national architecture awards. They all fail on 17 and proabably a few others as well. Have to feel sorry for the poor family forced to live in these WOF fails:

Stupid press release politics.  Please give us numbers on the owner occupier houses.  I see we will have the usual exploiters creating jobs for themselves over this one

So, people have gone round with a checklist ticking things off in rental houses. Strikes me, there was space for one more question
32. Is this house owned by NZ or foreign interests.

Give it up raegun, you've had your stats and foreign buyers are a tiny %.  Actually read some other peoples posts and you'll learn what the real causes of house price inflation is. 

And the other costs are freedom, liberty and responsibility to uphold those right for others.
But people like Raegun don't see themselves and their thinking as part of the problem !!!
It has got to the point where is one better to form some kind of religion/church and a charitable trust as protecting oneself against the State is going to be a priority!!!

There are NO stats!

Area of mould... I take it you're policing the tenants, because I'm getting real sick of cleaning many bathroom ceilings - do tenants even know how to clean or ventilate a bathroom?

Re: smoke alarms.  Tenants often rip these out rather than clean and replace batteries.

And finally, a reference to "WOF standards" and attachments isn't acceptable, as it allows backdoor changes.   Also cavity dampness in insulated areas is also important.  The figures for such environmentals need to be set to stop industry and political players messing with them.  Make a graph, outside temp and humidty levels, vs internal temp and humidity. (eg on 5 degree day, room heated to 16 degree, maintains a temperature of 14 degrees after two hours. - engineers are capable of building a set of plots which would indicate safe zones - so you can test 8 degree day, go to 19 degree.)   Far more meaningful that how much insulation and renovation you can force people to pay for....unless of course that's your ambition

Failing a few of the above doesn't seem a big deal, I would think a half decent home would have much trouble getting 90% plus.  We need health certificates to prepare food, certificates to own dogs and so on, so one could argue a health certificate to house humans is not such an unreasonable idea.  Apply it to rentals only of course....which would be great for first home buyers as they wouldn't have such costs imposed!  

Here are the unreasonable items:
8. Is there a fixed form of safe and effective space heating? (Yes/no)
10. Is the house reasonably free of visible mould, i.e. the total area of mould is less than an A4 sheet of paper? (Yes/no)
20. Does the house have underfloor insulation to WOF standards? (Yes/no)
NZ doesn't have a particularly cold climate and every house I've ever lived in I just wheel out a heater for 3 months of the year. 
Tenants should be cleaning mould.
Houses on piles don't necessarily need underfloor insulation to be well heated/insulated. 

Also dubious is:
28 - which requires more handrails than the NZ Building Code does
22 - yes under concrete floors, but not always needed under suspended
insulation to WOF standards - surely NZBC standards like owner occupiers housing is ok?
17 - Not required by building code and not present in most high end houses
15 - Not required by NZBC (unless as part of safety from falling)
13 - should be provided as part of code compliance, but impossible to police battery changes which should surely  be tenants responsibility?

The residential tenancy act already states that the landlord “Provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair and comply with all building, health and safety standards that apply to the premises”…  I’ve never been in this situation myself but I would assume that a tenant could simply complain to the DBH or tenancy tribunal and the landlord would be forced to remedy.  So the building WOF would just be creating a law for a law that already exists. 

Also dubious is: 4. Is the hot-water at the tap 55°C (±5°C?) (Yes/no)
Which would only be relevant if there is a Cylinder.  If its a continuous hot water system then only a maximum could apply (in order to prevent burns) - but then how would that relate to having a Zip tap which by definition deploys boiling water...?

"normal" houses would have hot water from a  cylinder, if its from a zip that isnt a hot water system so 55Dec doesnt apply to it.

28, no incorrect "is it to current building code", not more than. Which only applies to new buildings, hence the WOF is a joke if that is what it is doing. 
The present law requires it meet the then code which you can repair like for like, if you want to alter it then it has to comply with today's code, there would also then a fee for council inspection of course.

The WOF says balustrades (NZBC F4/AS1) to NZBC standards and handrails (NZBC D1/AS1) to ALL internal and external steps. In D1/AS1 for "steps of two or three risers within, or giving access to a household unit, the handrail may be omitted". Also isloated steps in household units do not require a handrails (D1.3.3 (j)).
So WOF requires more handrails than NZBC no?

Who the heck wants another damn layer of compliance thrust upon them......Geezus we are not going to be able to live without asking some idiot bureucrat or public servant ticking a box and giving us permission.  They way these jerks are going one is going to have to ask for WOF before procreation is able to take place!!!!
Are these idiots actually saying that people are too stupid to identify problems in a house bl*^@y arrogant to think that State knows best.  How undermining and derogatory can ones attitude be towards people ?
And as for you crap landlords out there who have premises that are below standard.....if you take some initiative and sort out your damn properties to an acceptable standard then we wouldn't have to bother with all this bollocks in the first place.

You will be saved when the revolution comes !

CM - the revolution has taken's been screwing business owners to the wall for years !! I have absolutely no faith in the current structure.......they are greedy. lazy, thieving, moronic -thumb-sucking idiots who are satisfying their own egos and agendas.........they contribute nothing!!! 
NZ'ers like the comfort of the status quo and so will never subject themselves to the uncomfortable position of change. People actually get a glint in their eye when they get something from Government or it's Agencies.....and I'm in the minority who squints......I would not ever take a cent of money from any Agency.......I'm never going to lose my principles to something so terribly corrupt.

Some ppl who rent do.

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