Quality rentals ‘in short supply’

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A shortage of good quality rental properties in Oamaru is creating extra expense for many low-to-middle income earners, says North Otago Budget Advisory Service coordinator Marge Giles.

Ms Giles said that cold houses and high rentals were putting financial pressure on those who needed it least.

“There is a shortage of good quality, affordable housing,” she said.

“Housing has always been cold in Oamaru, but people are stuck with what they’ve got.

“Some heat pumps are too small for the size of the house and don’t heat it properly, some wood burners are poor and if there are separate rooms, instead of an open plan, then they often require heating in each room.”

She said many rental properties were not well insulated but the problem seemed to be finding who was responsible for ensuring certain standards were met.

“Every house should be required to have a warrant of fitness, starting with rentals, but there is not even a voluntary code for a warrant of fitness.”

The current market rate to rent a three-bedroom property in Oamaru, she said, was around $280 per week and then people were asked to pay up to four weeks’ rent for bond, two weeks’ rent in advance and also have firewood or heating costs, lawn mowing, rubbish bin and transport costs to pay.

“It can end up being a significant cost to get into housing and it seems that for families, it’s a big expense,” Ms Giles said.

“Incomes haven’t gone up and if they have gone up, then by not enough.

“Why are wages not moving? If everything is going so well in the town, then why are low-middle income earners still waiting to see the benefits?”

An Oamaru property manager, who did not want to be named, said her company had a number of good properties available. They were priced from $280-300 per week for a good-quality three bedroom home, down to the next tier which “was dated and had not so many bells and whistles” at $250-260, down to about $230 per week.

She said people who owned their own home often put up with a lot less comfortable conditions than those in rental properties, and made improvements when they could afford to.

Not all rental properties were investments, she said, and owners rented out their properties for a variety of reasons.

“We have some owners who are very good and others not so good, and sometimes they simply can’t afford to make improvements.”

She said they had been able to insulate some homes through the Healthy Homes scheme but “there was only so much money allocated to this each year”.

LJ Hooker, Oamaru, property manager Kate Mihaere said people had to stop waiting for others to rescue them.

“At the end of the day, people have to be more organised,” she said.

“Everyone knows it’s cold in winter.”

“People need to purchase firewood, for example, during the summer months when it’s cheaper, instead of waiting until now when it costs substantially more.

“It’s not a landlord/tenant question – society needs to stop expecting handouts.”

Ms Mihaere said little movement in wages also meant landlords were getting nothing extra toward increased costs associated with owning a house, like rates, insurance and maintenance.

“There is a perception that landlords are cashed-up and asset rich, and that’s not the scenario – many properties are mortgaged.”

In answer to whether houses should have a ‘warrant of fitness’, Ms Mihaere said any legislation of that nature would be dangerous.

“Who’s going to own a house where it is set out that it needs to have this and it needs to have that?

“The danger of legislating a WOF is that there would be no budget housing because it would cost so much.”

Ms Mihaere defended significant initial costs in obtaining a rental property, like bond and rent in advance, saying that $1000 did not go very far these days and this cost needed to be put into perspective when tenants were given the keys to a $150,000-$200,000 house.

By LINDA MCCARTHY