COMMENT: Reform word games

Friday 12 October 2018

Everyone is talking about residential rental reform at the moment - or are they? Here's what Auckland Property Investors Association vice president Peter Lewis has to say about it... 

Words are the most amazing things. We have just 26 letters in the English language, and yet with skill and talent these few letters can be combined into words and speeches that can uplift, enthuse and emotionally move individuals to great accomplishments and unify whole nations. In the hands of a Winston Churchill or a Barack Obama words can resonate around the world and have global impact.

Words can also exhibit subtle emotions, indicating expressions of approval or disapproval. We have many time-worn expressions that are used to influence our feelings and encourage us to regard certain people or certain groups in either a positive or negative light. Thus, in our media, all mums are ‘young’, all female teenagers are ‘bubbly’ and all landlords are ‘greedy’. Like the canned laughter in trashy television shows, these words function to clue us in as to when and how we should react to those people. Sympathy or pity, envy or dislike. Strangely, when school teachers or nursing staff go on strike and agitate for more money, somehow they are never labelled in quite the same negative way as landlords.

One of the most common uses of words is to limit a particular choice, option or decision. A well-trained shop assistant will say “do you want this in blue or green?” thus skilfully and hopefully avoiding the real question of “do you actually want to buy this?” They are implying that the first discussion and the associated yes decision has already taken place. This is a standard and fairly handy ploy to get the outcome that they - and possibly only they - want. In the political sphere this subterfuge implies that if you are unaware of the existence of the initial ‘yes’ decision you are uniformed, ignorant, and out of the loop.

Right now we are being asked to join in the consultation on what is being called ‘The Residential Tenancies Reform Act’. Now hang on a minute mate, who has decided that this Act is in need of reform, where and when did that particular discussion take place, who was involved, and when were the conclusions announced? The answer, of course is quite clear - no discussion took place, no evidence for and against was presented or heard, there was no open discussion, and the decision that the Act needed reform was obviously a totally political one held in some quiet bureaucratic back-room at some unknown time. Yet we are being told to proceed solely on the basis of this dogma.

Another language trick is to extend the particular to the general. This is very common in the mass media, where we are frequently told that “Everyone is watching this” or “Everyone is following that”. Completely untrue, of course. What it really means is the person writing the article, and possibly a few of their friends or associates are, and then they extend that to the ridiculous extreme. The actual sweeping statement its both untrue and impossible, there are always a few natives in the highlands of New Guinea who have no interest at all in whatever it is and probably have never heard of it.

So, in similar fashion, we have the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act. A reading of the brief and a few minutes of logical thought shows that this title is false under at least two reasons. Firstly, it will only apply to rental homes. At my last reading, I found that two-thirds of homes in the country are owner-occupied. This Act will not apply to them. So 66% of NZ’s housing will see no improvement to their environment. If I said that I will give out a pill that would improve the health of our population, applied that nostrum to just one third of the population, then claimed the job was done, would you call me a liar?

The second part of the misleading title is the word ‘Guarantee’. You may ask “Exactly what does this legislation guarantee?” Well, very little in the way of improving the lives of those involved. It does guarantee that most landlords will need to spend money. It does guarantee that the Government will receive a nice little bonus of the GST on that expenditure. It does guarantee that vendors of insulation and heating will experience a very welcome short-term surge in business. It does guarantee that there will be some Tenancy Tribunal cases that will give us news headlines and possibly a few fines notices. What it does not guarantee in any shape or form that tenants will want to, or be able to afford to, run those expensive new heating appliances. It does not guarantee that their houses will be any warmer, as a cold uninsulated house then becomes a cold insulated house if no heating is applied. It most certainly does not guarantee that there will be any increase in the number of rental houses available on the market.

This Government has already stated that one of its aims is to be business friendly. Yet over the last year we have seen and experienced sustained and extensive attacks on the residential landlording business and the demonisation of those who provide housing for those who cannot or do not wish to buy their own property. Admittedly, part of the problem lies with us landlords - most who do not regard themselves as being in business, the accommodation business. I have spoken with many such people who regard it more as a hobby or a bit on the side. If we do not behave and act as business people ourselves we can hardly blame others if they also take a similar view. So we are held to be bumbling amateurs, incapable of making rational decisions, poor at providing for our tenants expectations, unreactive to their wants and needs, and ripe for regulation and exploitation.

So logically we cannot be amazed when there is a strong movement to reduce or eliminate the private sector landlord and place the whole residential rental industry into the hands of competent professionals. These professionals, with their academic credentials, social work training, and their MBAs, will do a much better job of catering for the wants and needs of our societies underclass. Of course that underclass of socially-deprived people will need to be properly educated into exactly what their wants and needs are, but no doubt large new government departments can be set up to establish that. The proletariat always needs leadership, and who is better than the university-educated middle class, solidly established on secure taxpayer-funded salaries and crammed full of socially-acceptable academic book learning, to provide that?

Comments from our readers

On 12 October 2018 at 3:16 pm kapici said:
Heard a similar spill from someone the other day that said builders and "those who know how to fix things" should be the ones providing accommodation for renters. Whether your last remark was sarcastic or not, "these professionals" surely cannot continue to include property managers that are not regulated and do not have to be qualified, to me they might as well be another mum n dad investor trying to manage a high value and multiple risk associated asset with basic house insurance and their substandard tenancy agreements...
On 13 October 2018 at 11:28 am mambovicki said:
Yes words are amazing things and I enjoyed reading yours. Excellent article, thank you.
On 13 October 2018 at 1:30 pm jeff.saunders said:
At last someone prepared to articulate the imbalance in our rental market. I’m paying for the government to be seen as socially responsible, and $20 K down the track, Am not finished the insulation process. The discussion document sent out recently by MBIE has tenant bias even embedded in its questions. Despite spending time responding, I have no expectation that landlord bashing will stop anytime soon, and that the rewrite of the Act will bring increased fairness.
On 14 October 2018 at 9:08 pm Gib said:
Spot on.Thank you for your intelligent and perceptive commentary.

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