Double standard in rental privacy guidelines

The Privacy Commissioner’s list of data sought from prospective tenants that is “almost never justified” shows a “do as I say not as I do” double standard from a government that does not practise what it preaches, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today. The 19 categories of off-limits data include:

  • Broad consent to collect personal information from “other sources”
  • Driver licence number
  • Credit card information
  • Nationality, ethnicity, origin or citizenship
  • Physical or mental disability or illness
  • Personal beliefs or opinions
  • Marital and family status
  • Gender and sexual orientation
  • Rent paid at previous tenancy
  • Sports and hobbies
  • Current expenses
  • Conflicts with previous neighbour tenants or building managers
  • Proof of insurance
  • Languages spoken
  • Details about current accommodation
  • Banking history
  • Employment history
  • Age (apparently one can ask if they are over – 18. Just not exact age)
  • Employment status.

However, Government departments routinely collect such forbidden information. For instance, the questionnaire for those applying for super includes six of those categories:

  • Three forms of ID including date of birth
  • Partner’s three forms of ID including date of birth
  • Proof of bank account numbers
  • Whether you are male or female.
  • What date you married
  • Where you live and whether you live there with your partner

Since these are only guidelines to rental property owners and managers to avoid seeking such information, then should Government departments be “guided” to do the same, as well as banks and insurance companies, not to mention employers, and the mountain of information required under anti-money-laundering law.

Also, the Privacy Commissioner doesn’t seem to understand the process of selecting a tenant.

A spokesman said that “viewing proof of identity and checking the references should come after a preferred candidate has been decided on”.

But reaching a decision on a preferred candidate is based on information provided in the application that the commissioner wants to put off-limits.

Sigh!

See https://i.stuff.co.nz/business/112906661/privacy-rules-wont-stop-discrimination

Why the new standards are not the answer

The final version of the Government’s new Healthy Homes minimum standards came out last week. Stop the War on Tenancies spokesman Mike Butler tells us what he thinks about them…

Standards for rental property are necessary. The Residential Tenancies Act includes standards that have existed since the Home Improvement Regulations of 1947.

Since we are now in 2019, and since the open fireplaces that were OK in 1947 have been banned, there is a case for an update. But any update should be evidence-based.

Unfortunately, the standards created by Housing Minister Phil Twyford are dominated by woolly, nanny state thinking.

For example, let’s take the new 2008 insulation standard of R 2.9 in ceilings, or a thickness of 120mm, that has to be met in two years.

Ceiling insulation makes sense because as hot air rises, 35% of heat may be lost through an uninsulated ceiling.

The evidence that the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has is that the optimum for ceilings is the 1978 standard of R 1.9.

But anything over that has diminishing effectiveness which amounts to a waste of money.

The former government stuck to the 1978 standard of R 1.9 in ceilings in standards that must be met by July 1 this year.

The minister’s new requirement to top-up insulation to meet the 2008 standard of R 2.9 even though there is diminishing effectiveness ignores the evidence and is a waste of money.

This requirement is a kick in the guts for owners who have been insulating for years to the R1.9 standard.

Subfloor insulation also makes little sense because only 10% of heat is lost through the floors and many floors are already insulated by carpet. For this we can blame the former government.

The requirement to provide a “fixed heater” (which is taken as code for a heat pump) makes little sense when all sorts of heaters are readily available from less than $20 and people have been able to keep themselves warm since time immemorial.

Whether a heater is fixed or portable makes no difference to heat output.

A large heater is not necessary because many dwellings are not large, and the area to heat is a living room that may be less than 10 square metres. A big heat pump would be overkill.

The presence of an electric heater does not mean it will be used because electricity is expensive and doubled in price from 2004 to 2014.

The Government, which is a major electricity supplier and of which the minister is a part, says nothing about the high cost of electricity.

Heaters must be able to raise the temperature to 18C, which is described as healthy according to a World Health Organisation recommendation.

But a closer look at WHO documents reveals that “no conclusions could be reached on the average indoor ambient temperature below which the health of the general population may be considered endangered”.

The Minister justified the standards when they were announced in February by saying “6000 children are admitted each year for ‘housing-sensitive hospitalisations”. This is not backed by evidence.

Answers to questions under the Official Information Act revealed that just one of 244,152 children had a condition exacerbated by housing in the 2015/16 year. See https://www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/health-statistics-and-data-sets/hospital-event-data-and-stats?page=2.

The Minister’s full claim was that “6000 children are admitted each year for ‘housing-sensitive hospitalisations’, and that these children have been found to be nearly four times more likely to be re-hospitalised and 10 times more likely to die in the following 10 years”.

This was lifted from page 41 of A stocktake on New Zealand Housing (2018). Since this is a Government publication commissioned by the Minister who wrote the foreword it gives the appearance that the Minister was quoting himself.

That assertion was made with no supporting data other than a footnote titled “Risk of rehospitalisation and death for vulnerable New Zealand children”. That paper identifies crowding as the housing factor and said that death was rare. (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28735258).

The standards we now have are designed to combat a claimed prevalence of cold, damp housing in New Zealand.

But only 2.7% of tenants surveyed complained about cold, damp housing, according to a Building Research Association of New Zealand report. See https://www.branz.co.nz/cms_show_download.php?id=606738ff7cb47451e094ad80f39cc912fa18f7a8.

The standards will have limited effectiveness. Insulation top-ups merely ensure that the costs of heating are marginally reduced. A fixed heater does not ensure that it is used. Ventilation by turning on extractors to remove steam from kitchens and bathroom could be achieved by opening a window.

The standards will have no effect on hospitalisations resulting from disease-transmission in crowded houses, respiratory diseases resulting from indoor smoking and unflued portable gas heaters, or infections resulting from poor hygiene.

This means that a fully compliant but crowded dwelling would continue to drive high rates of close-contact infectious diseases such as pneumonia, meningococcal disease and tuberculosis.

This evaluation of the new standards is likely to go down like a cup of cold sick for rental property owners.

A rule of thumb for home improvements comes down to costs and benefits and whether an owner-occupier would freely choose to spend the amount required.

For instance, with solar heating, homeowners who know the cost of panels and installation and can calculate how long it would take to get the money back and therefore can make a rational decision on whether to proceed.

Instead, in nanny state fashion, the Minister has set aside rational decision-making for rental property, and taken it upon himself to decide what he thinks is best for tenants and forced owners to comply.

The “healthy homes” requirements all cost money. For rental property owners, this money will have to either come from savings or a loan and be recouped by way of rent increases. Owners have a choice – do the work or sell.

A number of owners I know have had a gutsful and have sold, reducing the supply of rentals at a time that New Zealand is facing a housing crisis.

By driving rental property owners out of the market, the Minister is doing precisely the opposite of what is required to encourage an increase in rental property supply.

The Minister appears to be living in denial that the costs incurred by his standards will increase rents and reduce the supply of rental property without making any difference to the health of those living in crowded dwellings.

*Mike Butler has owned and managed rental properties for 27 years and currently has 60 tenants in 12 buildings.

This article was first published in Landlords magazine at https://www.landlords.co.nz/article/976514916/comment-why-the-new-standards-are-not-the-answer

No capital gains tax a relief for owners and tenants

Rental property owners and tenants will be relieved that pressure from hundreds of thousands of voters and taxpayers forced the ideologically-driven Prime Minister to drop the ideologically-driven capital gains tax, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern virtually told the media she wanted Michael Cullen’s capital gains tax but the myriads of opponents to the tax wouldn’t let her have it, Mr Butler said.

The arguments used to promote the tax, that a capital gains tax would help reduce inequality and that all New Zealanders would “pay their fair share”, assumed that those to be hit by such a tax were not paying their share, he said.

In fact, those who would be hit hardest are probably paying more than their share, he said.

The only people who appeared to support the proposed tax were those who thought they wouldn’t be caught by it, Mr Butler said, as was shown by responses of 90 percent who told one poll that they objected to having to pay a capital gains tax on their KiwiSaver investment.

However, a capital gains tax is just one silly idea from the current Government that those in the rental property sector won’t have to deal with, he said.

We still have to deal with the costly rental property standards that appear to have little to do with the claimed hospitalisation of children, possible changes to tenancy law that make it impossible to move on disruptive tenants, and the ring-fencing of rental property losses that may cause up to 116,000 rental property owners leave the sector, Mr Butler said.

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy.

Tech firm: Test rental properties before spending on heating

Housing Minister Phil Twyford should heed a warning from tech firm Tether that if rental property owners don’t monitor the warmth and ventilation performance of their properties, they risk spending thousands of dollars on upgrades they don’t need, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

Kiwi tech start-up Tether – which designs and manufacturers monitoring systems like the EnviroQ to enable healthy living environments – says “diagnosis comes before remediation”.

Tether CEO Brandon Van Blerk said “you need to know what’s going on in the house first. How do you prove consistent temperature? How do you maintain temperature? What happens when the tenant says it’s colder than 18 degrees Celsius and it isn’t?” See http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1902/S00773/tech-company-urges-landlords-to-delay-buying-heat-pumps.htm?fbclid=IwAR13rhIwy4W58ijd3wtgobTOr9rvw-0SmrEuAN5TafQWp0hCPEf0fW2Mx4w

The Housing Minister has made a fundamental error by assuming all rental properties are damp, cold health risks when the evidence is that only 2.7 percent of tenants surveyed by BRANZ complained of cold and damp, Mr Butler said. Check p40 of the BRANZ report at

https://www.branz.co.nz/cms_show_download.php?id=606738ff7cb47451e094ad80f39cc912fa18f7a8

Based on that error, he has imposed heating, insulation, ventilation, draught-proofing and moisture-proofing on all rental properties that may cost $7000 per dwelling when it is largely not needed, he said.

The Minister has compounded that error by assuming that the 10,800 children hospitalised every year have been made sick by the poor quality of housing while not allowing for other factors present in the dwelling, such as smoking, drug abuse, poor hygiene, overcrowding, not to mention medical issues sick children may have inherited, Mr Butler said.

The 290,000 owners of rental property in New Zealand form a substantial voting bloc. They can see that the Minister is acting against the interests of both owners and tenants and will vote accordingly, he said.

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy.

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