COMMENT: Housing supply increase is being hampered

The much-needed increase in housing supply is being hindered by new legislation relating to rental properties, warns NZ Property Investors Federation executive officer Sharon Cullwick.

NZPIF executive officer Sharon Cullwick

The NZ Property Investors Federation (NZPIF) welcomes the Budget 2020 announcement last week that the Government plans to fund 8,000 new houses with 2,000 of these being made available for emergency housing.

However, the reality is that even more houses are required.

Of the 600,000 tenancies in New Zealand, 90% are provided by the private rental sector with only a small percentage available through Housing New Zealand and other community-based organisations.

Although any house available for rental is a help, having an excess supply of these is the only way to solve the current issue.

Introducing improvements like the Healthy Homes Minimum Standards are great and needed to upgrade the older housing stock of the country, but they will also unintentionally reduce the supply of rental houses.

That’s because these older houses are being demolished and removed from the rental pool and are often replaced by owner occupier properties.

Consequently, the situation becomes worse and the current total of 15,000 people on the emergency housing waiting list increases. Little thought has gone into the timing of such legislation.

Given the right tools, private providers could step up their supply. However there are many negatives that discourage any further investment.

Take for example the new tenancy termination regulations introduced as an emergency measure in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

We have seen recently how families returning from overseas due to Covid-19 have been unable to move back into their own house. 

This is due to changes in the legislation which removes the ability of a landlord to terminate a tenancy so that he and his family can occupy the house.

We have also seen how dairy farmers are finding that their tenants, who have also been their employees until the end of their contracts, are refusing to move due to these new termination regulations.

In both these examples, the tenants involved probably would have been willing to move if they had been able to find alternative housing. The lack of supply is the issue here as well as the termination regulations.

Another related issue is that a fixed term tenancy is now no longer for a specific amount of time as it automatically rolls over to become a periodic tenancy. 

Yes, there are still ways that you can remove your tenants. But the reasons that allow a landlord to do so are very limited under the new legislation.

Further, unless the parties both agree, tenants cannot be asked to leave unless there are rent arrears of at least 60 days and/or proven "anti-social behaviour".

These are all unintended consequences of the legislation and if the proposed changes in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill go through, as they are presently written, they will be a major on-going issue.

They will do nothing to help solve the shortage of housing but instead will hinder any improvement in housing supply.

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