Terminally ill woman, WINZ families asked to vacate homes by Hamilton landlord after Government crackdown on property investors

A Hamilton landlord says she has no choice but to ask a terminally ill woman and four Work and Income beneficiary families to vacate their homes following a Government crackdown on property investors.

Natasha Goodwin made the difficult decision to give tenants of her five rental properties their 90 days' notice last month after calculating the Government's recently announced housing changes would soon cost her tens of thousands of dollars extra a year.

Among those forced out of their homes is Anne Johnson, a woman whose rare respiratory condition is likely to end her life within the next few months - but Goodwin says she's only breaking even, and the changes have left her with no choice.

That's contested by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who argues what happens to these vulnerable tenants is not the Government's fault. He points out the new interest deductibility rules won't even affect Goodwin yet, so it's up to her whether she keeps her tenants housed.

The changes, announced last month, are the Government's attempt to cool rapidly escalating house prices and help first-home buyers into a market many have been priced out of. They include an extension of the bright-line test, a $3.8 billion fund to help green-light new builds, and a $2 billion boost for Kāinga Ora to make strategic land purchases.

But for Goodwin it's the removal of interest deductions on investment properties - a move that makes owning multiple properties a significantly less lucrative investment - that'll hit her the hardest.

She says that'll make it impossible to afford to keep the properties, unless she boosts rental prices. Instead of heading down that route, she's now selling up.

'There are no other houses to rent'

Among Goodwin's tenants is Anne Johnson, who likely has just months to live.

The 67-year-old has Churg-Strauss disorder, a rare autoimmune disease with no cure, and hypersensitivity vasculitis - the combined effects of which will ultimately end her life.

"It's very rare and people don't usually last more than two years," her son Marc Bishop told Newshub. "Mum is fortunate enough to be living on borrowed time as she was diagnosed a bit over two years ago."

Johnson has been given three months to vacate her Melville house, which she has been living in for the last year and is conveniently located within walking distance of Hamilton Hospital, where she regularly goes for treatment.

Johnson has been given three months to vacate her house.
Johnson has been given three months to vacate her house. Photo credit: Newshub

Bishop is the only one of Johnson's family members who can look after her consistently. He worries his mother's last months will be characterised by stress and inconvenience thanks to the loss of her home, and suspects it may accelerate her decline.

"Finding a new place for her will, if not kill her, cause her some pretty serious physical issues," he said.

"I pick up contracts on the road, so what am I supposed to do? Stick my mother in my mobile home and take her with me? It's like we've just been backed into a corner.

"Finding this place [she's living in now] took blimmin' ages… the amount of stress and what it took out of her just to move there was too much for her."

Bishop doesn't have any hard feelings toward Goodwin; he describes her as a "lovely young woman" and understands her rationale for selling up.

His anger is instead reserved for Grant Robertson, who he says has been spouting "verbal diarrhea" about the benefits the housing changes will bring.

"What Robertson is conveying is 'no it's okay, this is to help first-home buyers into the market' - which is fair enough, and I understand that there's a problem there," he said.

"But their actions are causing extremely detrimental harm... People are having to sell their homes because they can't afford to pay the tax and people like my mother are getting forced out.

"There are no other houses to rent - there's nothing out there."

'I figured I was doing a good deed'

Goodwin never intended to become a property investor.

She initially bought three Hamilton units to house herself, her sister and her mother so they could all live close together, but it got to the point her mother needed something slightly bigger, so she bought her a two-bedroom unit.

She then bought another home so she could remain in close proximity to her mum, followed by a two-storey place to look after her when she was later diagnosed with cancer.

"I just thought, 'it's not really worth selling - I might as well rent them out if they're going to break even'," she remembers.

But the Government's housing changes mean it'll soon be too pricey for Goodwin to keep renting out properties to Johnson and her other tenants.

Hamilton landlord Natasha Goodwin owns five rental properties.
Hamilton landlord Natasha Goodwin owns five rental properties. Photo credit: Getty

She estimates the removal of her ability to offset interest expenses against her rental income will cost her an additional $23,000 a year.

"I'm not working a full-time job just to pay tax - I'm sorry," Goodwin told Newshub.

"I don't make anything off keeping these rentals, I break even. Especially for one of the places I've got - three units in Hamilton - the maintenance on it just costs a bloody fortune and it's really not worth keeping.

"I figured if I was breaking even and housing someone then I was doing a good deed, but it's come to the point where it's not worth keeping these houses. It's so stressful."

Goodwin believes the changes should never have been made. She says if they weren't, her tenants would be able to remain in their homes.

"I'm making five families homeless… they're all WINZ tenants. The majority are probably going to struggle to find places as they've got bad credit," she said.

"First-home owners are going to end up getting these houses, but there's not going to be anywhere for the renters to go."

Part of the reason Goodwin's getting out of the property game now is because she predicts this won't be the last time the Government meddles with its housing rules. She predicts things will only become more difficult for landlords.

"I get why these laws are coming into play, but the next will be double-glazing. I can't afford $20,000 per property to be double-glazed - it's just going to be ongoing," Goodwin said.

"And then they're talking about rent caps; I mean, as it is I'd have to increase the rents by $150 a week to make ends meet."

Decisions on tenants lie with landlords - Robertson

Finance Minister Grant Robertson, the face of the Government's housing changes last month, argues reforms to interest deductibility should not be causing any landlords to evict their tenants yet.

Interest deductions on residential investment property acquired on or after March 27 this year will not be allowed from October 1, 2021 - but this won't affect Goodwin, who owned her properties well before then.

Interest on loans for properties acquired before that date can still be claimed as an expense for the next four years, and will gradually be phased out throughout this period.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says it'll be a while before the changes affect landlords, so any decision to remove tenants is on them.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson says it'll be a while before the changes affect landlords, so any decision to remove tenants is on them. Photo credit: Newshub.

Asked why he didn't foresee issues for renters after the housing changes were announced, Robertson said it "wouldn't be fair" to characterise it as the Government's problem.

He says landlords have been given enough time to come to terms with the changes, and don't have to act right away.

"Those changes have not kicked in yet; there is a four-year phase-in period for anyone who's currently using interest deductibility mechanisms," he told Newshub.

"[Landlords] have got plenty of time to make their decisions and look at what they want to do from an investment perspective - but that is not the decision of the Government, that is the decision of a landlord."

As for whether he'd consider providing financial help for landlords housing Work and Income beneficiaries and other vulnerable tenants, Robertson it's not something the Government had considered at this point.