Council of Social Services Dunedin and Dunedin Community Law Centre hosted an open discussion of the possibility of a Warrant of Fitness for Housing on Thursday 3 October 2013. The following is a summary of opinions expressed at the meeting:
- DCC is interested in minimum standards of rental accommodation, but haven’t settled on best way to achieve this.
- It was clear from the DCC’s Social Wellbeing consultation that the quality of housing stock was a concern; residents want warm and adequate housing.
- OUSA interested in student housing stock, and thinking of the best way forward – one idea is introducing a local Bill re: minimum standards. OUSA has drafted local Bill, DCC may or may not go with it.
- DCC cannot develop a bylaw that encourages minimum standards because this would be ultra vries
- Internationally the UK has minimum housing standards
- Green Party has a Private Members Bill re: minimum standards
- Need to be mindful of unintended consequences.
Presbyterian Support Otago
In 2004 Presbyterian Support Otago published Old, Cold and Costly? A Survey of Low Income Private Rental Housing in Dunedin (otago.ps.org.nz/sites/all/files/u14/Old%20Cold%20and%20Costly_0.pdf), they are currently revisiting homes they visited 10 years ago, looking to see if there are improvements.
If a WoF is introduced there are some unintended consequences for elderly folk.
- Elderly residents, they are now being encouraged to stay in their homes for as long as possible, there is pressure to be as independent for as long as possible.
- Elderly residents feel they need to keep up with the maintenance of their homes or they are letting their children down (ie: in terms of inheritance).
WoF is only a small part of the picture, we need a holistic view. Poverty is an issue; 60-70% of people’s income is going on rent.
- If you instigated a housing WoF it would result in a rent increase. Median rents would start to climb.
- Should encourage new builds, if there is new housing stock on the market the quality rises and old houses will drop off the market.
- Regulatory problems with renovating older housing stock – problems re: Historic Places Trust saving older Dunedin homes.
- Questions around where the standard is set, and time frames, ie: 5 – 10 year compliance, possibility of a star rating system.
Idea of a star rating system
- would apply to landlords and not to private home owners;
- some private home owners cannot afford the upkeep of their homes.
- Need to educate tenants in what to look for, Otago Polytechnic has guidance online: www.opsa.org.nz/accommodation.php
- Issue of what new migrants think of Dunedin’s housing stock; New Zealanders tend to put up with poorer housing stock.
- Students choose location over housing stock.
- Unintended consequences (ie: rent increases) versus a moral issue (good quality homes for families). Is legislation a way of dealing with morality?
- Compliance is a way to weed out rogue landlords.
- We can’t legislate private home owners, some private homeowners are bringing up children in substandard housing and the health system has to pick up the pieces.
- International models: Scotland Scottish Housing Quality Standards, requirement that these be met by 2015. (www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/Housing/16342/shqs)
- Landlords need to be supported to bring homes up to standard in a way that does not increase the cost of rent.
- Over time minimum standards will become the norm. Two – three years ago you could charge extra if you put a heatpump in, now the market has created heatpumps as a minimum standard so you cannot charge more.
- Dunedin is an old city, need a localised WoF and some sort of benchmark and more research.
- Good quality housing is a Human Rights issue and a mark of civilised society.
- Needs to be some education around what to look for in rental accommodation, and also education for landlords, asking them the question “if I am renting would I live like this?” If landlords look after their premises they will find that their tenants will too.