Friday, March 28, 2014

Mike Butler: Why the property WOF is a crock

A closer look at the 31-point property rental warrant of fitness checklist that is being trialled gives the appearance that it has been put together by people unacquainted with the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act, who are ignorant of how tenants live in New Zealand buildings, and who fail to understand the implications of building code compliance.

Two pilot warrant of fitness trials for rental properties are presently under way. One is a government initiative involving 500 Housing New Zealand properties and the other involves a “consortium” of interests involving the Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin councils, ACC, NZ Green Building Council, and the University of Otago.

A total 17 points(1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 14, 15, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31) relate to aspects of any building advertised for rent. All these factors are on display when a prospective tenant views the place. If the place is a dump, the prospective tenant really should not choose to live there if they do not want to live in a cheap dump.

If the prospective tenant becomes an actual tenant of a dump, and if for whatever reason that tenant should take exception to the building, or a leak appears or a floor collapses and the landlord is notified, and the landlord does not repair it, the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act has clear procedures for remedy – or the tenant could just give notice and move out.

Point 8 carries the implication that naughty landlords are forcing poor tenants to live in cold damp housing. It appears to require the property owner to provide a heater, which looks like a push by central government to get property owners to subsidise tenants heating expenses.

It may come as a big surprise that currently there are no limitations on heaters in residential properties. Every tenant can be as warm or cool as they choose. Every tenancy has power sockets to which may be attached an inexpensive heater that the tenant may buy. There are no limitations on the use of unflued gas heaters.

Numerous houses have fireplaces although use of these have been banned by local authorities in some areas because of occasional breaches of an arbitrary particle density standard in some areas – Hawke’s Bay and Christchurch.

The check on use of thermoplastic insulated cabling is redundant because this check is carried out in the process of applying for insurance cover. No thermoplastic insulated cabling means no insurance. This has had the effect of progressively updating the old cabling from the inter-war period, although the really old cabling in conduit is arguably safer than or as safe as thermoplastic insulated cabling because it is contained within copper conduit.

There are two questions on insulation – ceiling and under floor – and one on a ground vapour barrier, so here is the history of the past 10 years of home insulation in New Zealand.

There was a politically driven push for insulation so a subsidized scheme was enacted. The requirement linking a subsidy with work being done by an approved installer enabled insulation providers to capture the scheme and hike prices. Private landlords found it cheaper to do the work without hiring an approved installer. A check on the uptake of subsidies found that few private property owners used the subsidized scheme, and this made the busybodies pushing WOFs allege naughty landlords were shirking their responsibilities.

The next step is the current property rental WOF scheme which appears to be intended to send out an army of clipboard-carrying independently qualified persons to make sure filthy rich-prick landlords have done their civic duty.

Questions 28 and 29 says “to the current Building Code”, a phrase that should terrify property owners as much as “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

These questions, which ask whether there are handrails for all internal stairs and all outdoor steps that access the house, and do balconies/decks have balustrades to the current Building Code (ie one metre instead of 800mm), and whether there fire egress to the current Building Code, means that if the naïve property owner seeks to make it comply he or she would have to get a building consent, and that consent would require everything in the building to be brought up to the current code. Of course new and more stringent requirements are being added every five years or so.

For instance, I know of a building with a low ceiling that was built in the 1940s, at a time when building permit applications could be sketched on the back of an envelope. When the owner wanted to do some improvements he was told he had to bring the building up to code and the lowness of the ceiling was pointed out to him. Yes, he would have to raise the ceiling, which was clearly not possible in this roof with one slope and not crawl space without building an entire new roof. Needless to say, the modification did not proceed.

Questions 9 and 10 are about mould and ventilation. Whose responsibility is ventilation? Where windows open anyone can ventilate a property and if a property is not ventilated, moisture will not dry and mould will grow.

Without getting into a long discussion about the mould, insulation, and the influx of migrants from steamy countries, it is important to note that the Tenancy Tribunal is clear on responsibility for mould when it says “tenants are required to maintain their premises in a clean and tidy state while living there. Once you move in, it’s your responsibility to keep your place in that condition”.

The checklist requirement that the total area of mould is less than an A4 sheet of paper appears to be shifting the responsibility for mould on to the property owner. If that is the case, and if the property rental WOF proposal goes ahead, any tenant that fails to ventilate and avoid mould would definitely be evicted before any WOF inspection.

Whose responsibility is it for hotwater at the tap to be 55C (+ or – 5C)? Hot water cylinders have a rotating knob that enables the temperature to be regulated. When the hotwater runs cool residents turn up the temperature. Will this checkpoint require hotwater cylinders to be modified so that water temperature may not be altered in rental properties.

Smoke alarms are an excellent early warning. But tenants get irritated when stovetop cooking always set them off, or when smokers in the house set them off, so they remove the batteries. You end up with a situation with a smoker who has taken the battery out of the alarm falls into a drunken stupor after putting a pot of the stove and very soon the house is ablaze.

The checklist appears to be absolving the drinking-smoker tenant from responsibility even though the landlord is already only too painfully aware that they do not want a fire so they will avoid drinking-smoking tenants.

The property rental warrant-of-fitness scheme is a complete and utter crock put together by a handful of people running their own agenda and handled by politicians who are solely interested in a further three years’ work. If you agree with what I am saying, please sign our online petition.

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


Anonymous said...

Was particularly interested in the reference to mould etc. I have a 1960s rented house, pile construction, admittedly built over damp ground with no barrier. Asian tenants , never with windows open, and all taking showers, coated the whole house with mould in months. House has been empty last winter, and despite being all closed up, no mould. Acrylic paints and sealants seem vastly more prone than previous paint and putty. Similarly another rental with ex Africa coloureds (if that precise description is still permissible). No problems in the same house for decades with mould, the property now ruined. Many migrants strive unconsciously to recreate the tropical fug of their homeland. Unvented driers a major contributor.

I am very sceptical of university studies proving anything. The researchers do not live with the subjects and do not visualise all the goings on. Seldom have practical backgrounds. The researchers are desperate for a topic, and prefer one with possibility of research subsidy, and ongoing employment within the university or in the new industry they have generated. Similarly Council staff and others see scope for ongoing employment in a nice secure, inspection job requiring no great initiative or skill, and free of the tedium of competition, or risk of redundancy. A whole new empire offers.

Houses which were satisfactory in their day suddenly are not. Housewives in the 1960s were home in the day, busy washing, ironing, cooking, so felt warm and would open windows, as they had been taught to do. No clothes driers operating. Now many occupants are sedentary in front of a screen and keep house closed for warmth. The desirability of fresh air etc not taught in schools;(the teachers like the air conditioning.)

The health studies of houses a case in point. No adjustment for diet, meal habits, hours of non sleep, smokers, the degree of sharing of utensils, close habitation of animals, personal hygiene, washing up procedures, food storage, degree of dressing for the weather, rain etc, number of transients passing through/sleeping over etc and introducing illness’. I am sure a correlation could be established with a myriad random social factors.

Much is made of insulation but this is an industry made for exploitation. Subsidies have hugely inflated the cost of work, much of which is abysmal. Landlords are reluctant to adopt. Rental properties are prone to unnoticed leaks, and regular bath overflows etc. Insulation hides faults, holds and spreads moisture, turns minor leaks into leaky home type episodes, hugely compounds damage, and repair costs. All the wet insulation and long saturated structure has to be removed, replaced, then the insulation all reinstalled; a multi tradesperson, multi visit major project from a minor episode.

-- Tired, disillusioned long term payer of lotsa tax

Anonymous said...

Mould 2

For a not highly affluent country, the beneficiary classes (in and out of work) have remarkable expectations, which are largely met without serious question. The dole for life is easily achievable and a prudent aspiration for many. The same persons in wealthy USA would be sleeping out, and in Brasil etc living in shanty towns. A beneficiary can exceed the general standard of accommodation and wellbeing of many worker families immediately postwar, with less effort to cook, garden, wash clothes etc. There is never any serious suggestion that families should tailor size to the ability to provide, yet the majority of net taxpayers do this. With a building wof, benefit exploiters will be guaranteed better accommodation than many workers. For a plain unskilled woman, solo motherhood, with or without regular mate, is much more attractive than a traditional single life on the single dole or working as a cleaner etc. A good house, leisure, and company is guaranteed.

I know of a person not possessed of great physical ability or motivation, too smart for a dull job, not smart enoughfor a top job, and too contrary for a normal job . Had reasonable jobs but not one to accumulate glowing references. A supposedly bad back led to a life on benefits or dole for decades. Now on automatic Super, able to handle a full size motorcycle.

-- Tired, disillusioned long term payer of lotsa tax

Brian said...

If ever there was a one sided agreement this WOF for buildings, this proposal must rate as a highly socialistic electioneering bribe worthy of many votes. A veritable Godsend to the Labour/Green Parties, with a chance to make themselves again visible in a socialistic vote empty landscape.
It stands alongside such pet phrases as the Colonial elimination of Maori culture, and the wrongful acquisition of tribal lands (especially those already sold by Maori a few times over).
There is little use in my opinion of trying to fight head on this piece of selective administration, with any idea that the general public might have of looking at in any other way. But as a support for those poverty ridden families oppressed by grasping greedy and uncaring Landlords.
The right way is to agree, stating that this proposed legislation making Landlords totally responsible for the actions of their clients (sorry tenants) and upgrading the properties to a correct standard (whatever this is?
Yes, this proposed law needs formulating to protect rental tenants, and at the same time all New Zealanders being fair and responsible people, would also agree that these landlords need similar protection from that “minority” of tenants who wilfully abuse and neglect the houses they tenant. A similar W.O.F. could also be instituted, covering these irresponsible tenants, their actions, and publically circulated freely to protect other landlords.
Being true New Zealanders the leaders of both the Labour & Green Parties could back both these two “horses” and show in an election year, just how fair minded they are in their appeal for votes at the coming election.. Brian

Unknown said...

While there is much merit in what you state Mike, I can't help but feel you are brushing over some important issues in your reactionary rant.
Your view that the tenent should just move out if they're not happy overlooks the core issues - they're in this shitty place because they don't have much money. Simple logic indicates that they wouldn't be living in a slum by choice.
So where can they go; to another dump, no better than the one they're in now?
You state there are all these legal protections in place and I don't disagree with you, but clearly they're not working.
And this is why I support the WoF concept. A set of minimum standards to protect those who are most exposed to this problem but least likely to know they have redress or rights.

Mike Butler said...

The problem, Mark, is that vested interests such as the child poverty shroud-wavers, researchers, building inspectors, local authorities, heating providers, and insulation installers all want either to tap into a cash flow from property or shift blame on to naughty landlords for problems that have other causes. They make these wild assertions about how crappy rental property is, without evidence, then go on to say that most properties would pass a WOF test. Go figure!

Anonymous said...

I would like to know:

1. What are the consequences for failing said test?

2. Does a fail on 1 of the points constitute a total failure?

3. How do houses that CANNOT comply get on? For example, flat roofs, concrete block walls, concrete pad foundations. You cannot insulate these.

paul scott said...

Many New Zealanders expect their home to value up without any effort. New Zealanders are lazy land owners,
I spend half of my work looking after my home. I have bought several houses in Christchurch, and they were in a state of disrepute when I bought them and famous when I sold them.
If you want to find a good home look at the previous owner. I know every square inch of my property and I look after it, I husband my property, I had to work through earthquakes and floods, and we were not defeated.