Lambton ward candidate Iona Pannett answers Renters United’s questions

September 17, 2016 9:44 pm

Renters United asked every candidate for the Lambton ward 11 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Iona Pannett’s responses in full. Compare Iona with other candidates. Read responses from other candidates.

1: Wellington City Council has declared its intention to introduce a rental WOF. Do you support the introduction of a rental WOF? If so, how will you go about its introduction?

Yes, I support the introduction of a compulsory WoF over time. Wellington City Council has been at the forefront of testing the idea of a rental WoF and have also advocated strongly for higher standards in terms of rental quality.

There are a number of approaches which could be taken. Some of the issues that you rightly raise in this survey need to be addressed by central government or by the private market; local government’s powers go only so far. We can advocate but that will be limited in effect. The problems relating to rental housing are long standing and deep and won’t be solved quickly. Part of the complexity arises also because there are questions about whether local councils can stipulate a higher standard than the Building Act and Code currently requires. We cannot of course act beyond our powers and to need to make sure that any changes we make are lawful.

So, in terms of how I think we should implement the rental WoF, my view is that the ideal end is the national legislation is enacted as I believe it is in the best interests of renters to have consistent standards around the country. Renters should get a fair deal wherever they go.

However given we have a government that does not take this issue seriously enough (acknowledging that at the least they have made insulation mandatory), there are three main alternatives approaches. We could either go for a Wellington specific piece of legislation or ideally get one covering areas around the country who are sympathetic to this approach (such as Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Tauranga Councils who have already done work on testing a potential WoF). Alternatively, we could also introduce a voluntary WoF scheme as a beginning step then moving to a compulsory one when we are legally able to. Finally, we could develop our own bylaw potentially. All of these ideas would need to be tested further legally. So in in the first instance, my preference is for a voluntary WoF to get buy in from the community before we transition into a compulsory one, either by our own legislation or through national legislation.

2: Are there any other steps you would you do to improve the health, quality and safety of rental homes in Wellington?

I won money earlier this year to make sure that we continue to fund the Healthy Homes Initiative in Wellington which gives subsidies to those wanting to improve the quality of their home. It is very unfortunate that the Government has essentially cut funding to this programme. A change in Government will help restore funding I’m sure. We also support the Sustainability Trust to deliver better housing to renters. I support the continuation of this funding.

Wellington is also of course one of the few places in New Zealand that has a large amount of Council housing. We have done a great deal of work to upgrade the flats and I’m committed to finishing this work. I would hope that this upgrade work will put pressure on private landlords to do the same. We also need to make changes to our District Plan to ensure high standards for housing built in Wellington.

I understand that renters have concerns around the risk of trips and falls, whilst this may be a legislative issue, we can certainly advocate to landlords to fix these issues. There should be national guidelines around this issue.

Given that it is difficult for tenants to report bad landlords as there is a power imbalance between the two parties, inspections should be compulsory to ensure landlords are meeting the letter of the law. Landlords should pay for this so the burden does not fall on the tax or ratepayer.

WCC has supported Andrew Little’s bill to improve housing quality. I personally hope that this is passed and comes into effect as soon as possible not 2022 at the latest.

3: How would you address homelessness in Wellington?

This is obviously a complex area but I have supported the Council’s Te Mahana Strategy (including funding it) since its inception and believe that we can resolve this issue in the next few years. The principle underlying our work to end homelessness should be a housing first model. Housing must be provided first to make sure that people are healthy and safe and then we can begin to address some of the underlying issues that have caused people to become homeless in the first place.

I also support the idea of a wet house for those dealing with alcohol addictions. I have supported and worked for this idea for some time. I believe it is also important that we provide appropriate support services for women, Trans gender people and Maori and Pasifika.

I have also been a long term supporter of funding social services that deal with addiction issues, poverty, abuse and so on.

Finally, we need to build more homes. There is not enough social housing for those on the lowest incomes, something some of us have been aware of for some time but time and resources have gone into upgrading Council’s housing stock. More detail about this issue is below.

4: Do you support the building of additional council housing and if so how much housing should be built in the next council term?

As above, yes. I don’t have exact numbers on how much would be needed; further analysis would need to be done. As far as I understand, this was last done in 2006.

5: Are there other measures you would take to increase the supply of quality rental housing in Wellington?

To address this issue, we need to work with the Government and their agencies to achieve this end. We may need further funding to do this work. Working with private developers is also a possibility but the incentives would need to be right. Offering rates relief or rates rebates are incentives that we could potentially offer to get more housing built.

Any agreement that we go into to develop land should stipulate that affordable housing is built and we also need to make sure that there is land allocated for affordable housing in our District Plan.

We also need to make sure that our processes are good for making sure that affordable housing is built. Council staff do a great job of working with developers but we need to collectively work even harder with the third sector and private developers to get this housing built by making our processes as easy to follow as possible whilst ensuring that the houses are of acceptable quality.

We also need to provide choice for different kinds of family situations and that are culturally appropriate i.e. for Maori, Pasifika, refugees and so on.

Further research into different kinds of ownership models i.e. sweat equity, joint ownership between council and government or renting to buy need to be looked at and implemented where workable.

Council should also spend some money building some more housing. This should not mean increasing rates but re-allocating from some of our economic initiatives like the indoor concert venue and runway extension.

The issue of quality rentals is as important as the quantity. Whilst the Government’s bill to make insulation mandatory from 2019 is laudable, it should be done to current Building Act standards. Council has advocated for this as well as better curtaining, heating and damp-proof membranes.

6: What do you think are the main reasons rents in Wellington are increasing? How would you ensure rents in Wellington are affordable?

From what I have seen on Trademe, rents in Wellington have increased by 5% over the last year, this is likely due to increasing house prices and demand outstripping supply. It may be that landlords are trying to recoup their costs either from improving the houses or flats or other related housing costs.

Increasing housing supply (Council, private sector and Government) is one effective way to keep rents down. I have also worked to advocate to Government with my councillor colleagues to have the income related rent subsidy applied to Council housing which hopefully will make renting council housing more affordable. It should also be possible to explore whether there are mechanisms at a national and local level to fix rental levels for a particular period of time to help people manage their costs.

7: Many renters face discrimination on the basis of their gender, family status, age and ethnicity and when trying to find a home in Wellington. What steps would you take to address this?

Enforcing anti-discrimination legislation is essentially the role of central, not local government but discrimination is not only unlawful, it is unacceptable so Council can have a role in ending such practices through working with owners themselves or their advocacy groups.

Working with renters themselves and related advocacy groups is also a way to ensure renters know what their rights are. It might also be possible to provide further information to renters at a Council level about what their rights are.

8: Do you support dedicated tenant advocacy services to balance the influence of landlords and rental agents? If so, how should these be funded?

Yes, definitely given there is at times a power imbalance between landlords and tenants. This should be a central government funded initiative (i.e. through taxes as a public good service) but in the absence of such a service, we could look at providing some advice. I don’t know how much a service would cost so this would have to be looked at carefully. Local government shouldn’t take on central government functions.

Working more closely with groups such as yours would also assist. Community Law and Citizen Advice Bureaux also have a role to play in telling people what their rights are.

9: Would you take steps to tackle persistent bad landlords who do not meet their obligations to renters?

One mechanism would be to develop an app that allows people to rate landlords as they can already rate other service providers. I am also happy to advocate on tenants’ behalf.

I strong support Renters United Submission about empowering the CEO of MoBIE to be able to hold poor landlords to account and that councils amongst other bodies should be able to require the CEO to take action on bad landlords. The point that this process should be clear is a sensible one. I also agree that someone should be able to order repairs to be undertaken or improvements made but maybe think that they should be done by the Tribunal, not the CEO. I’m happy to discuss this though further.

I also believe that there needs to be a robust inspection regime at a national level to make sure that landlords are complying with any legislative changes. Alternatively if could be done at a local level but we would need resources to do this. I also agree with Renters United that it is not acceptable for a landlord to not give a reason for ending the tenancy; a good reason should be required. A minimum period of 6 months for giving notice sounds reasonable. The issue of retaliatory notices is one of concern and an issue that local government can pick up. I agree that local government should be able to make complaints about bad landlords to MoBIE.

10: How would you ensure renting is more stable/secure?

Central Government also needs to play a role, I don’t think we would be able to get through a local bill which achieved this outcome so I’m supporting the Greens bill which attempts to address this issue and will advocate actively on its behalf. Giving tenants a default rental period of 3 years would be a significant win for renters. This should also benefit landlords by giving them a secure rental income. Allowing for an automatic right of renewal would also assist tenants. For more information see the bill below:

Presuming that the tenancy will be ongoing would help and giving tenants the right to end it rather than the landlord. Selling could potentially be considering not an adequate reason for ending the tenancy but this is a difficult issue as a new owner might have a different view on what s/he wants to do with the property.

11: Do you have any other policies that you believe will have a particular impact on improving renting for renters in Wellington?

As a Green Party candidate, I strongly support the work my colleagues are doing in Parliament around creating more security for renters, being transparent around rent setting and making renting a more attractive proposition for families. I am committed to working with whoever is in power after the 2017 elections to make progress on these issues.

It is also important that we ensure that renters have good access to open, attractive and green spaces, particularly if the place they are renting is relatively small. This is an area that the Council can control. It is also important that renters have good access to public transport or safe walking routes to make it easier to get around and to reduce costs for those on low incomes. Rental homes must be located appropriately, close to important services.

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