Thursday, June 08, 2017

National ignores slumlords

We have a housing crisis, and dodgy landlords are exploiting this by renting out drafty garages and squalid boarding houses for outrageous rents. In theory, violations of minimum rental standards can be investigated and prosecuted by the government. But how many compliance officers do they have? Just fifteen:

Just 15 officers are responsible for enforcing standards across the entire New Zealand rental market.


[Building and construction minister Nick] Smith said that the 15 officers were enough to cover the private rental market of around 450,000 properties, as most tenancy issues were brought forward to the tenancy tribunal by renters themselves.

"The compliance and investigation unit focuses on the properties of the more vulnerable tenants, where they are unlikely to be able to take a case to the tenancy tribunal."

He noted that local councils also have the power to shut down unsafe rental housing.

So we have a problem, and Nick Smith's response is to pass the buck. Which isn't really surprising when you consider how many National MPs are landlords (or indeed, slumlords). The last thing they want is for landlords like them to be forced to offer decent houses to rent - then they might make less money.

Meanwhile there's an obvious parallel with mine safety here, where National underfunded mine inspectors because they just didn't want to know about the problem. In that case, the result was the Pike River disaster. Obviously shitty rental housing is less dramatic than that - it is unlikely to lead to an explosion and 29 people dying in a single tragedy. At the same time, the number of deaths and illnesses caused by shitty rental housing is significant: poor housing causes 40,000 hospitalisations and 1600 excess deaths, and slum rentals will cause a disproportionate chunk of that. There are significant public health benefits to investigating these landlords and forcing them to comply with the law. Isn't it time the government acted?