The Rental Warrant of Fitness is back on the agenda; Chlöe Swarbrick, the Auckland Central City Green Party MP made the call In what was an engrossing interview on the AM Show with host, Ryan Bridge. The Greens currently have a petition running calling for an RWoF to be passed into law for rental properties.

The concept of the RWoF is not new. It has been around now for nearly a decade. The RWoF was first introduced by Professor Phillipa Howden-Chapman and her team at Otago University, basing compliance on a set of 29 different criteria. If you failed one of the criteria, you failed the RWoF. The concept of an RWoF is not a silly idea and in principle,we fully endorse it. However, the original concept was far too onerous as it assessed items such as the size the sink in the kitchen and the temperature of the hot water. What we have always believed is that the RWoF will be adopted to work in conjunction with the Healthy Homes standards with assessments being undertaken every three years. Now Swarbrick has renewed the call and has taken up the mantle of being the undisputed champion and spokesperson for tenants. This fits her profile perfectly. Being a tenant herself and at the young age of only 27, the Central Auckland MP can easily relate to her target market and most of her constituents will likely be of a similar demographic.

The RWoF was even introduced by Wellington City Council back in 2017 but the attempted implementation by the Council ended in disarray and never really got going. Hardly any landlords took up the initiative introduced by the Wellington City Council and those landlords that did were highly critical around the quality of assessment and reporting.

Yes, everyone is fatigued with adapting to so much change in such a short timeframe, but the management of Healthy Homes does not and should not end when the final deadline is reached on the 1st of July 2024. Houses depreciate, as do the fixtures, fittings and other features that help keep a property warm and dry. At some point in the future, someone will have to go back to the property and check for compliance. The RWoF gives you the ability to do this.

The reality is the Healthy Homes implementation has and will continue to be a significant challenge to the property management industry. Booking assessors, dealing with landlords who refuse to comply and project management of contractors is a daily occurrence. We also highlighted that the Government is having ‘significant issues’ with the implementation of the heating calculator which does damage the credibility of the whole Healthy Homes concept. As hard as change is though, it is necessary.
Regardless of your political beliefs, it is difficult to argue with Swarbrick with regard to certain aspects of her argument. The cost of an assessment every three years is hardly going to break the bank and she is right when saying that ‘people who rent their home shouldn’t have to get sick or complain before the safety of their home is tested and guaranteed’. An RWoF should technically remove that from being an issue and it should lead to a reduction in Tenancy Tribunal claims by tenants, which are currently on the increase. There is also the environmental argument around the implementation of an RWoF. New Zealand has committed to being net carbon neutral by 2050 and for this to happen, every industry will have to play its part, including the residential rental sector.

As ever with the implementation of such a policy, the devil will be in the detail and it will not be straightforward. In the exchange between Richardson and Swarbrick, Richardson rightly pointed out that the cost after an assessment will increase as it is like taking your car in for a WOF, there are almost always added expenses. Swarbrick’s response was that the assessor should be independent, however policing that will probably cost more than what it is worth and the taxpayer will again have to pay.
If an RWoF is introduced, it should include a mandatory Energy Performance Certification or EPC, grading the property energy use as well as giving recommendations as to how to improve energy efficiency. These are mandatory throughout the EU and the UK. An EPC gives a property an energy efficiency rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) and is valid for 10 years. For a property to be rented to tenants, the property must achieve a certain standard. The benefits of the scheme are obvious with a more energy-efficient property leading to lower emissions as well as transparency for tenants who can more easily budget for their power costs. There will also be health benefits for the occupants of the property.
No one in this country should have to live in a property that is bad for their health and the environment.

I believe we will see an RWoF introduced within the next five years and no one should be opposed to this. Renting out cold and damp properties is no longer acceptable or ethical. Maybe implementing a compulsory RWoF is not such a bad idea after all.

Harrison Vaughan

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