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Fit to rent? Housing WOF trial results released

Fit to rent? Housing WOF trial results released

The results of a rental housing ‘warrant of fitness’ field trial have been released. This is the first step in a collaborative project aimed at making rental housing safer, healthier and more energy efficient.

More than 140 rental properties were given the once-over by home assessment experts in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin earlier this year. The pilot aimed to test whether draft warrant of fitness (WOF) checklists and methodologies were practical for landlords, assessors and tenants.

The field trial has not resulted in the immediate issue of a WOF for each home, but it is an important step towards standardising methodologies and checklists to ensure the credibility of any national WOF scheme.

The rental housing WOF field trial involved the Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin councils, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) and the University of Otago, Wellington. The trial tested a range of criteria that could potentially be included in a housing WOF. It aimed to identify aspects such as average assessment times and how to best communicate results to landlords and tenants.

The assessment tool was developed by the NZGBC and the University of Otago, Wellington, with feedback and input from the five councils, and ACC.

A spokesperson for the steering group behind the WOF survey trial, Dr Julie Bennett from the University of Otago Wellington, says work is now underway to tweak the WOF checklist. “We have received good feedback from landlords, tenants and the assessors and we are now going back to look at the checklist and criteria to make sure we have a robust and usable housing WOF for the rental market.”

Dr Bennett said landlords, assessors and tenants provided valuable information during the field trial. “The trial was really important so that we could gain an understanding about what is going to work for landlords, assessors and tenants. For a housing WOF to work, it has to add value for the landlords and we needed to actually trial the draft WOF checklist and methodology.”

Some of the key information gathered from the field trial and subsequent interviews are:
• Landlords surveyed were supportive of a WOF in New Zealand
• Landlords surveyed said that they were going to undertake work as a result of the new information from the draft WOF assessment
• 36 per cent of the homes that went through field trial would pass all of the draft WOF criteria with relatively minor fixes ($50 - $150 worth of materials/hardware perhaps).

Items attracting most of the attention during this testing phase included whether houses need a ‘fixed’ form of heating such as a heat pump or a wood burner in order to ‘pass’ the WOF.

After the inspection system has been refined it will be presented to the participating councils for discussion.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says, with a third of New Zealanders living in rental accommodation, the trial has underscored that a rental housing WOF system would be highly useful to potential renters. “The work so far shows real progress is possible in our efforts to ensure tenants have healthy and safe homes and that landlords maintain good minimum standards. I look forward to the next stage where we can apply this initiative more broadly, particularly in the most vulnerable communities.

Most assessors who were interviewed after the trial said they were willing to make ‘easy’ fixes, while doing the inspections, to make homes compliant. The fixes included installing smoke alarms or smoke alarm batteries, changing lightbulbs or adjusting hot-water temperature.

Many homes still lack working smoke alarms – despite extensive and ongoing advertising – but the trial also found the overall condition of the homes that participated was good.

Around 94 per cent of the homes inspected in the field trial did not pass at least one checklist criteria, but most dwellings failed on only a handful of the 31 inspection targets on the WOF checklist. Around 36 per cent of homes would pass all the criteria in the draft WOF checklist after just a few minor and inexpensive fixes.

In terms of the next steps for the project, the partners in the project aim to:
• Share the results of the trial, including reporting back to relevant councils
• Get endorsement/agreement from participating councils on the next steps
• Continue discussions with Central Government to work towards one WOF tool for NZ
• Finalise checklists and methodologies
• Investigate next steps for introduction of a voluntary WOF scheme.

Facts and figures from the trial:
• 144 houses inspected
• The inspection checklist looked at 31 items that covered a wide range of aspects ranging from weathertightness and insulation to ventilation, lighting, heating, condition of appliances and general building safety (see list)
• Age range from 1880s to less than 10 years old
• Wide range of houses participated – from detached to apartments
• Average time to inspect houses – 51 minutes
• The majority of houses ‘failed’ on only a handful of checklist items
Top five checklist items that homes did not pass:
o 40 per cent of houses did not pass the water temperature check
o 30 per cent of bedrooms did not have a working smoke alarm within 3 metres of the bedroom
o 31 per cent of houses lacked code-compliant handrails and balustrades
o 37 per cent of houses did not pass the check for having a fixed form of heating
o 38 per cent of houses did not pass the security stays check

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