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Can we control rent?

With more than a quarter of Wairarapa households renting their homes [28.4 per cent, according to the 2018 census], political parties’ rental market policies are likely to influence how a significant number of the region’s population cast their vote in the October general election.

With this in mind, the Times-Age asked the declared candidates vying to be the next Wairarapa MP to unpack their party’s rental promises.

Green candidate Celia Wade-Brown said as someone who grew up in a council flat, her party’s policy – which includes rent controls, introducing a rental Warrant of Fitness, and building more affordable, environmentally friendly homes – “is close to my heart”.

“Children whose families rent their homes deserve a good start in life.”

“Far too many renters have the constant stress of not knowing how much their rent will be in the future, creating instability for children having to move schools, and making social connections and work more difficult.”

Wade-Brown said rent controls limit how much a landlord can increase rents each year, giving renters peace of mind to budget for food on the table, while a rental warrant of fitness would mean that all rental homes are safe, warm, and healthy.

“At the moment, good landlords who make sure their property is safe, warm, and dry are undermined by bad landlords who are more interested in profits and capital gains than the wellbeing of their tenants. A national register of all landlords and property managers is necessary.”

Wade-Brown added that farm cottages that are part of a worker’s employment package would not be included in rent controls but would be included in the rental warrant of fitness.

Current Wairarapa MP and Labour Party minister Kieran McAnulty said increasing the number of rentals in Wairarapa has been a high priority for him: “That’s why I fought so hard to bring back Kāinga Ora to our region for the first time since 1999.”

While acknowledging private landlords have an important role to play, and many look after their tenants well, he added that “we need to find a balance to keep renters in warm, dry, and secure homes, and fair rules are key to this”.

McAnulty said the Labour Party has tried to strike a balance in the rental market.

“We removed the interest deductibility on existing houses but not on new builds, which has meant that investment is going to where we need it, and that’s new builds.”

McAnulty added that the government has a strong track record of helping renters, including banning letting fees and introducing healthy home standards.

“We modernised the outdated Residential Tenancies Act by banning no-cause terminations, limiting rent increases to once a year, and enabling tenants to make changes like earthquake-proofing.”

According to National Party candidate Mike Butterick, the key to a better rental market is clear.

“What we need is to get more homes built and stop piling costs onto landlords that end up hitting renters,” he said.

The biggest issue is how fast rents have risen under Labour “thanks to poorly designed policies that have done nothing but load costs onto landlords and renters”, Butterick said, going on to claim that the median weekly rent in Masterton has increased $220 during Labour’s time in office – more than $11,000 per year.

National will remove many of the costs and regulations that have driven rents up and discouraged people from putting homes up for rent, he said.

“We’ll restore interest deductibility for rental properties and bring the bright-line test back to two years. We’ll also get serious about boosting the housing supply.”

National will “fix the economy” to reduce interest rates and the cost of living, Butterick said, so it’s easier for everyone to get ahead.

Meanwhile, the most recent candidate to throw his hat in the ring to represent Wairarapa, the Act Party’s Simon Casey, noted that “last week TradeMe reported that [national] median weekly rental prices rose to a record high of $620 for June, rising $10 in just one month”.

These higher rents “are the outcome of the government making it harder to maintain rental properties through increasing red tape and removing financial incentives”.

“A better rental market needs more homes,” Casey said.

“The ways to achieve this are to fund infrastructure better, reform planning laws, and reform building consent laws so it’s easier to build, then make it easier to be a landlord.”

Among its rental-related policies, Act is promising to reform the Resource Management Act on a property rights basis, “with the presumption that you can develop your land so long as your immediate neighbours’ property is not unreasonably affected”, share half the GST collected on new residential builds so that councils have the means and incentive to let building happen, and “reverse anti-landlord policies around evictions, the bright-line test, and mortgage interest deductibility so that it’s more attractive to rent out a house and tenants have more choice”.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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