Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mike Butler: WOF warning for landlords

Landlords should be alarmed that the “Solutions to Child Poverty in NZ” report proposal of requiring a warrant of fitness for rentals jumped to top of the list in the poverty experts’ media statement, released on Tuesday, and Housing Minister Phil Heatley made noises on Closeup that suggest he would go along with such a scheme that would be paid for by landlords.

The poverty experts, who believe rental property owners only seeking short-term investment gains and tenants seek long-term tenancy stability, when the exact reverse is actually the case, want a capital gains tax for rental property.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei tried to increase pressure for extending its insulation scheme when she told parliament "too many kids grow up in cold, damp homes."

Turei and the poverty experts seem unaware that the current home insulation and heating subsidies scheme is costly, mainly benefits licensed installers, and are set up in a way that is cheaper and more effective for landlords to ignore the subsidies and install the insulation themselves.

For instance, I installed insulation that would have cost $3886.10 after taking advantage of the subsidies for a total cost of $1726.34, saving $2159.76. The poor uptake of the subsidies is taken as a sign that landlords are not responding to the carrot so the poverty experts want the big stick of regulation to be waved.

They seem unaware that a heated, insulated home will still drip with condensation and grow mould if not ventilated. Amid the clamor about children living in cold homes, the professional poverty experts also seem unaware that insulation only lowers the cost of heating and reduces the scope for condensation. Mum or Dad still has to turn on the heater in winter, a reality that is often shocking for newcomers from the Pacific Islands.

Home insulation has only become an issue for poverty experts over the past 10 years, which is a period characterized by high immigration of people from hot climates. Many of these migrants, unaccustomed to the New Zealand climate, raise the temperature inside their flats and houses while sealing all windows and doors, which causes high levels of condensation and mould.

The pressure insulate is a push to get landlords to subsidize tenant living expenses, and comes at a time when landlords are paying about 35 percent more tax as the end of depreciation on buildings takes effect. No thought has gone into the reality that the tenant will end up paying for these increased costs.

Meanwhile, as one part of government tries to make life better for the poor, another part of government has banned non-complying fireplaces to achieve an arbitrary level of air cleanliness. This clampdown, which severely affected numerous quake-hit Christchurch residents through the past two winters, prevents the poor and everyone else from gathering firewood at no cost and burning it to keep warm.


Anonymous said...

How do you ventilate a home in winter without freezing it to the point that it takes days and a massive surge in electricity to reheat it?

How do you ventilate a home in winter during the night when you are literally freezing on top of your electric blanket under your bed covers with your nose dripping and your feet freezing?

And even if you do leave windows open overnight, the windows are still dripping in the morning!

I am not from a warm climate. The fact is that NZ homes are generally poorly built, poorly insulated, and are not built for the damp, humid climate that also has cold overnight lows for at least five or six months a year, if not more. Maybe Northland is the one exception?

It is also a fact that in Europe, most modernized homes with central heating and double-glazing do not suffer from condensation or mould problems, and are essentially completely sealed for the duration of the winter period.

Black mould is also a serious health hazard that condemns a house in America. And I am personally suffering health problems from exposure in NZ to black mould.

Sorry, Mike, but I cannot reconcile my personal experiences with your statements, while I do agree that insulation does not provide all the answers - although it should reduce the amount of heat that escapes, and reduce heating bills. However, it will also reduce the 'natural' ventilation. ;) Not that, in my experience, that ventilation helps prevent condensation or mould.

It is time to look at the different construction techniques employed overseas where they have solved these problems - although obviously this is a long-term solution that has no immediate effect. However, it is time to address the real problems once and for all, instead of clutching at straws and failing to face the reality of the shortcomings of NZ's building practices.

Property is grossly overpriced in NZ, not least for the quality of the construction. The rental stock is especially poor, and European immigrants comment on that more than anything. Rental prices have also gone through the roof in the past three years. Yes, the councils are partly to blame for making it uneconomic to rent out basement flats to singles and couples, etc. Yes, compliance costs are safety regulations are out of control. But the fundamental problems fall elsewhere.

Traditional NZ-style housing might be okay in the islands where houses can be ventilated all year around, but down here they just do not work. And I suggest that if New Zealand does not start addressing the fundamentals straight away, the housing will increasingly become a problem in attracting new immigrants from first world countries. There is only so much people can put up with, even if they are otherwise sold on the NZ lifestyle. Low wages, poor to non-existent benefits packages, very high prices to wages, etc, and a climate that is not all it is cracked up to be.

And before you think I am a whinging immigrant, that is not so. I have just lived elsewhere and know that the vast majority of NZ housing is substandard and overpriced. And I am sure most landlords do their best to maintain their properties, as it is in their best interests to do so.

Mike Butler said...

It is easy to keep homes dry and ventilated without installing an HRV system. Wipe up condensation every morning. Have security stays on a couple of windows and ensure airflow through the during the day. Keep place clean and don't let mould grow. Don't let ignorance wreck your health.

Anonymous said...

So - You say Europeans homes are pretty well hermetically sealed? They must be using bottled oxygen then?

Anonymous said...

I lived in state homes so did my wife (State coal & army)its not the houses at fault it is the occupants. My & my wife's parents aired the home, cleaned up any condensation & wiped of any mould that formed (very rare). We heated the home as required & dressed for the conditions. New Zealanders are becoming moaners & groaners lapping up all the media hype & jumping on the entitlement bandwagon as it roles past powered by taxpayer funding or we aim our entitlement rifle at "The perceived wealthy" & see if they will pay for our lifestyle its becoming embarrassing to be a New Zealander.