Rental property WOFs: Chlöe Swarbrick branded 'naive', Mark Richardson called out for 'victimising' himself in fierce clash

Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick has accused staunch landlord advocate Mark Richardson of unnecessarily "victimising himself" during a fierce clash over the Green Party's proposed warrant of fitness (WOF) for rental properties.

The Green Party is calling on the Government to introduce WOFs for rental properties to ensure the Healthy Homes Standards are being upheld for tenants, who are more likely to live in damp, unhealthy homes than homeowners. 

The University of Otago has proposed the warrant, which would cost landlords an estimated $150 to $250, would need renewing every three years to ensure rental properties are warm, dry and safe for tenants. 

The Healthy Homes Standards, which became law on July 1, 2019, outline the minimum standards for heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture ingress and drainage, and draught-stopping in rented properties.

Last month, the Government announced that all private rentals must comply with the Healthy Homes Standards within 90 days of any new or renewed tenancy after July 1, with all private rentals complying by July 1, 2024. All houses rented by Kāinga Ora (formerly Housing New Zealand) and registered Community Housing Providers must comply by July 1, 2023.

The Greens' petition, which has already amassed more than 7800 signatures at the time of writing, argues a WOF for rentals will allow tenants to hold their landlords to account without a "stressful and expensive fight" through the Tenancy Tribunal, while simultaneously offering protection for landlords with certified properties.

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning, Swarbrick argued that the introduction of a WOF would mitigate potential conflict in the future by ensuring rentals are certified and up-to-standard from the get-go.

"Renters currently have the onus on them to go to the Tenancy Tribunal and drag their landlord or property manager through that process to enforce those Healthy Homes Standards. A WOF would front-load any of that potential stress and say, 'hey, we've given this a license, it's good to go'," she said.

Swarbrick suggested that in the context of landlords charging an average of $500 per week, a WOF with an estimated cost of $150 to $250 "makes a whole lot of sense".

However, co-host Mark Richardson - himself a landlord and self-proclaimed "mum and dad investor" - said the costs wouldn't necessarily stop at the initial fee. Comparing the proposal to vehicle WOFs, he noted there's usually "always something wrong" with a car when it's time for inspection, to which Swarbrick acknowledged that the Healthy Homes Standards would need to be enforced by independent regulators to combat the possibility of money-grabbing. 

Richardson countered that the additional costs of having an up-to-date WOF could be another "upward pressure" on already high rent prices. 

"With regard to rent, Mark, you're charging rent above and beyond the mortgage that you have on the property, right?" Swarbrick asked. 

Richardson denied this, with Swarbrick quickly adding: "So you're making a loss on your rental properties?"

"Yeah," Richardson said.

"But you're making a capital gain on your rental properties?"

"I hope, eventually."

"So you're doing this out of charity, you're telling me?"

"No, I'm doing it because I'm providing accommodation for people that need it in what are some quite nice, comfortable places. I'll make up the shortfall, and eventually, hopefully, when I sell, I'll get a capital gain that will mean everyone wins," Richardson said. "[However], the likelihood of a capital gain has been taken from me."

"So what's the business sense in that?"

"It's called risk and reward," he said. "A lot of your capital is tied up in a long-term investment that hopefully pays off at the end of the day."

The Green Party is petitioning the Government to introduce WOFs for rentals to ensure properties are meeting the Healthy Homes Standards.
The Green Party is petitioning the Government to introduce WOFs for rentals to ensure properties are meeting the Healthy Homes Standards. Photo credit: Newshub

With 30 percent of New Zealanders aged 65 and over not owning their own homes, Swarbrick noted that renting is becoming increasingly indefinite rather than transient. As it becomes harder and harder to get on the property ladder due to rising house prices, it's imperative rentals are up-to-scratch so long-term tenants are guaranteed a healthy and safe home, she says. 

But Richardson said the Green Party "always look at things negatively", arguing that roughly 70 percent of Kiwis aged 65 and over owning their own homes "sounds like a pretty healthy country".

"This is a protection for good landlords, Mark, as it would prevent them from going through the Tenancy Tribunal," Swarbrick said.

"If you want to make renting a viable, long-term solution for some people, they deserve to live in healthy homes as well."

"Absolutely agree, but don't say that other people don't have the right to try and buy a home as well," Richardson argued.

"I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that if people are providing houses for others to live in, in the same way you'd rent out a car, there should be a WOF there. There should be expectations that we are treating landlords like adults - they have responsibilities when it comes to providing homes for those renters," Swarbrick explained.

"Don't paint everyone with the same brush," he said.

"I'm not painting anyone with the same brush. I think you're perceiving a slight - unnecessary victimisation of oneself, I think," she shot back.

Later in the programme, Richardson berated Swarbrick as "naive".

"I'm staggered that one of the major players in a major party that has housing policies, doesn't actually understand how the housing market works? Just assuming you make a profit on every investment, that rent always covers what your outgoings are - that is just so naive. Two, stop painting everyone with the same brush. Yes, there are poor landlords out there… but I think the majority are pretty damn good.

"[The Greens are] flip-flopping."