This timeline tracks progress towards introducing a comprehensive rental warrant of fitness (WOF) in New Zealand.
2007: After the subsidy for private landlords to insulate their rental properties is introduced, Government spokesperson on Energy Efficiency and Conservation, Jeanette Fitzsimons, notes that “if, after several years opportunity, some are still unwilling, we will have to consider a regulatory approach.”
November 2008: After the National Party wins the 2008 general election, it scraps Labour’s election policy of spending $1 billion on home insulation over 15 years. Environment Minister Nick Smith says the Government will work towards launching a home performance rating mark. Housing Minister Phil Heatley says he wants to change the Residential Tenancies Act to improve the standard of lodging houses, but won’t introduce a rental WOF.
2009: National and the Greens announce a $323.3 million programme of home insulation, clean heating and energy efficiency measures over four years.
May 2012: National extends the Warm Up New Zealand programme for an additional year (till July 2014).
August 2012: the Herald on Sunday launches a campaign to bring in a rental WOF.
November 2012: the Labour Party announces that as part of its housing policy it would bring in minimum standards for rental accommodation.
December 2012: The Expert Advisory on Child Poverty to the Children’s commissioner publishes its findings [pdf]. Recommendation 20 is that the government introduce a rental housing WOF:
We recommend that the government ensure all rental housing (both social and private sector) meets minimum health and safety standards, according to an agreed Warrant of Fitness, such as the Healthy Housing Index. These standards should be monitored periodically and effectively enforced, and gradually increased over time.
May 2013: Housing minister Nick Smith announces that National will pursue a housing WOF, initially for the 69,000 Housing NZ properties only.
October 2013: The University of Otago’s Housing and Health Research Programme and the Green Building Council announce they’ve developed a Warrant of Fitness scheme they would like to see rolled out on a voluntary basis, and eventually become mandatory. The Property Investors Association says it isn’t needed, and the Government should focus on insulation and heating.
May 2014: results from the He Kainga Oranga/Healthy Homes Research Programme trial of a rental housing Warrant of Fitness Pre-Test are released [pdf]. The trial involved assessing 144 properties around NZ, and overall 90 per cent of properties failed. In light of the high failure rate of houses, the criteria are tweaked to make it slightly easier to pass.
September 2014: The website “Rate My Flat” launches in beta, allowing renters in Dunedin to look at ratings of houses they’be been in, in an effort to encourage better housing standards. In their words: “Rate My Flat is determined to help improve rental housing across New Zealand and empower tenants to make better-informed decisions.” They’re aiming to expand to other cities soon. (See coverage on The Wireless.)
February 2015: The mayors of Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington and Dunedin write to Housing Minister Nick Smith in February arguing the case for introducing mandatory minimum quality standards for rental properties.
March 2015: Labour MP Phil Twyford’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill is defeated in a tie after Parliament votes at 60-60. (Read Tywford’s speech.) It had the backing of the New Zealand Property Investors Federation.
National MP Matt Doocey spoke against the bill, saying the Government could not back a policy which threatened housing supply:
“The Government, though, is yet to make a decision on minimum quality standards to other social housing providers and to the private rental market. … The advice is that thousands of houses will never be able to be insulated and will never meet the standards required.” …
“I am very much concerned about this bill—the unintended risk to housing supply, whether this means that once the bill comes in tenancies will have to be cancelled and people will have to be put out on the street; and also the unintended consequence of increased rents. Will this force very vulnerable people in the rental market to seek further overcrowded housing as this level of rentals is taken off the market?”
National MP Paul Foster-Bell argued the bill:
“is typical of a smug, know-it-all, and Stalinist heavy-handed approach, insisting that landlords meet standards that are actually beyond their control.”
April 2015: Minister of Maori Development, Te Ururoa Flavell, calls for a rental WOF after visiting “squalid” rental homes in Christchurch. He said: “Having seen what I’ve seen, we’ve got to consider it. I’ve been so moved by it, it’s hard to get out of the head.”
June 2015: The University of Otago’s He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme in Wellington, received a $5 million five-year grant for their team of 28 researchers to run six trials aimed at lifting housing standards in order to improve children’s health. Part of the research programme involves testing a rental WOF in two cities.
After a two year old girl dies in south Auckland, and a coroner finds that the cold, damp and leaky home may have contributed to the toddler’s death, there are widespread calls for a rental WOF. The Labour Party said it may reintroduce its Bill which would introduce a WOF.
Finance Minister Bill English says the National Government won’t introduce an “extreme” WOF because it would drive up rents, and force houses off the market. He said:
“We’re trying to find the solution that helps lift the standard of housing without making the problem worse by forcing housing stock out of the market or people out of houses they can no longer afford.”
July 2015: Housing Minister Nick Smith announces that the Government will amend the Residential Tenancies Act to require private landlords will be required to insulate properties and install smoke alarms by 2019. Social housing which receives government subsidies will be required to be up to the new standard by the earlier date of July 2016. In announcing the package, Smith said:
“Overall this package will see the biggest improvement in the quality of New Zealand’s older homes this decade than in any decade and it will see a half million New Zealanders, particularly those on low incomes, having a safer warmer and drier homes”
The Government chose not to introduce a more extensive WOF because of its concern that it would impose excessive costs on landlords. Research papers released by the Government at the same time as the policy announced show that the costs of the rejected, more extensive WOF would have cost $653 million with total benefits of $987 million to the economy, a benefit-cost ratio of 1.51.
The rental WOF was criticised by Labour, who called it a half measure. The NZ Property Investors Federation (NZPIF) described the policy as “reasonably balanced”.
October 2015: Labour’s attempted reintroduction of a private member’s bill requiring a rental WOF is controversially barred from introduction by Parliament’s Speaker, after he ruled it was too similar to the earlier Bill which failed to pass.
December 2015: The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill is introduced to Parliament. The Bill “will amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 to require smoke alarms and insulation in residential rental properties, and other tenancy improvements.” It passes its first reading on 8 December, and is referred to the Social Services Select Committee for consideration. The Committee called for submissions, with a closing date of 27 January 2016 (see MBIE consultation page).
The University of Otago, and Wellington and Dunedin City Councils announce that they are collaborating to trial a comprehensive WOF in Wellington and Dunedin in 2016. The aim of the study is to measure how the WOF affects the rental market and tenant health in Wellington and Dunedin, compared with Lower Hutt and Invercargill (which are not planning to introduce their own regional WOFs and hence can act as experimental ‘controls’).
April 2016: The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill reports back from Parliaments’ Social Services Committee. The Committee suggests a number of amendments are made to the Bill. The Labour Party and the Greens issue minority reports.
On 19 April, Housing Minister Nick Smith announces a number of changes to the regulations underpinning the new housing standards. Among other changes, houses with no insulation, or with insulation in an unreasonable condition, will now be required to install installation to the 2008 Building Code (rather than old, less stringent standards).
On 27 April, University of Otago researchers announce the results of their recently published evaluation of the Government’s Warm Up New Zealand insulation programme. Among other benefits, installing insulation (to 2008 standards):
- reduced hospitalisation rates for all children by 6 percent.
- reduced hospitalisation rates for children in households where any member carried a Community Services Card by 12 per cent.
- reduced hospitalisation for children living in private rental housing by 19 per cent
May 2016: The Labour Party’s Healthy Homes bill passes its first reading in Parliament, with the support of United Future, the Maori Party, New Zealand First and the Green Party (National and ACT opposed). The Bill would require landlords to upgrade underfloor and ceiling insulation to 2008 standards within five years for existing leases, or within a year for new leases.
July 2016: Changes to tenancy laws come into effect on 1 July. The three most significant changes are:
- all rental properties will be required to have smoke alarms;
- all new tenancy agreements will need to include a statement of the extent and safety of insulation in the property; and
- any replacement or installation of insulation in a rental property must meet the required standard.
Last updated August 2017.