Early Warrant of Fitness results promising

The results of the first-ever trial of a Warrant of Fitness for New Zealand houses are in, and they look good.

The trial was run by several local councils, and involved 144 houses around the country being checked for things like having insulation, proper electrical wiring, smoke alarms, no leaks or major mould, proper heating, good plumbing and so on.

The headline result is that of the 144, just eight passed. But the most common failures were from relatively minor (and cheap to fix) problems, such as the water coming out of the hot taps not being hot enough, windows not having those stays that prevent children from opening them and falling out, and so on.

If those minor problems had been fixed, 36% of houses would have passed.

Of the 24 landlords interviewed following the trial, 19 said they had noted ways their houses could be warmer, dryer, or safer as a result of the assessment, and 15 had taken action to improve their property as a result of participating in the trial.

Only a small minority of the private landlords (12%) interviewed stated they would put up the rent as a result of improvements made.

Over three quarters of tenants in the survey supported the idea of a Warrant of Fitness.

So what are the results telling us? They show the clear need for a Warrant of Fitness, since so many houses failed on substantial grounds – even though, and this is an important point, the landlords who participated were probably above average, since they volunteered to take part. Despite much progress on insulation recently, this remains one of the biggest failures of many houses.

Responding to the landlord feedback, the team doing the research has already concluded that some items should be dropped, like the window stays.

One big challenge for making the Warrant of Fitness mandatory will be getting landlords onside. Even in this self-selected group of relatively responsible landlords, only half of them supported a mandatory Warrant of Fitness scheme, with more supporting a voluntary one.

The argument that will probably be made to them is that we don’t allow sub-standard cars to stay on the road without a Warrant of Fitness, no matter the cost and inconvenience to car owners, so why should bad houses be any different?

Either way, the report on the trial concludes: “In general the results are very positive. There is a workforce willing and able to carry out the inspections at a reasonable price and both landlords and tenants appear to generally support a rental housing WOF.

“The challenge will be to establish the appropriate regulatory framework to support the Rental WOF and carry out an implementation trial to evaluate the costs and benefits of a housing WOF.”

Housing Warrant of Fitness Pre-Test