Housing crisis: Landlords' warning to increase rents not an empty threat - economists

Landlords are warning the weapon they'll bring to the Government's war on property investors is higher rents. 

They say the new housing measures will increase their tax bills and force them to hike prices or sell out, reducing rental supply. 

But renters can't afford to pay anymore.

Economists say rent hikes are no empty threat.

"You are more likely than not to see rents going up faster than what they already have been," says Nick Tuffley, ASB's chief economist.

That's despite words of unity from Minister of Finance Grant Robertson.

"What I'd say to landlords and property investors is that we are all in this together."

One property investor believes they are being alienated.

"We're supposed to be this team of 5 million. Are we a part of that team, or are we being alienated that much," Rebecca Bartlett says.

The Government's gone ahead with its new measures without knowing what impact they could have on the rental market, as Treasury never gave any advice on it.

But the Government still can't say what an affordable house price is.

"We know what unsustainable and unaffordable house price rises look like because we've seen them in the last few months," Robertson says.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 12: Police Commissioner Andrew Coster speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on August 12, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. COVID-19 restrictions have been reintroduced across New Zealand after four new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Auckland. Auckland will be placed in full lockdown for three days from midday on Wednesday, with all residents to work from home unless they are essential workers and all schools and childcare centres to close. The rest of New Zealand will be subject to Level 2 restrictions. The new cases are all in the same family, with health authorities working to trace back the source of the infection. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
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New figures released on Wednesday by the Reserve Bank show just how hot the housing market has been running. 

A huge $7.6 billion was borrowed to buy homes in February alone - 36 percent more than the same month last year. Only $1.2 billion of that was to first-home buyers. 

The Government wants to even that playing field.

"We need to act to control unsustainable house prices," Robertson says.

But fixing the housing crisis could make the rental crisis worse. 

Leigha Speirs-Hutton is about to move into her new rental in Auckland. It's $700 a week, without expenses.

"This was our limit, we can't afford anymore," she says.

But renters like her could soon be paying more.

Landlords say the Government's property investor crackdown leaves them with little choice but to hike prices. 

Bartlett just bought a do-up rental in Auckland's Mt Eden, and Tuesday's announcement had her sweating.

"Really worried, really scared, quite panicky."

She thinks the new tax measures will add another $6000 to $10,000 a year to the cost of each of her properties.

"I'm not rich, I'm struggling to get my head around this and to pay for all of it," she says.

For many renters, the price hikes will be unaffordable.

"It's quite a struggle at the moment even to keep up with rents," one person told Newshub.

"I'd rather have that money for myself," another said.