A Comparison of the Structure and Regulation of the Private Rental Housing Market in New Zealand and several OECD countries

Libby Grant – Masters

Housing is an important determinant of health (Howden-Chapman, 2004). Poor quality housing has been identified as a public health issue of major concern in New Zealand (NZ) (Howden-Chapman & Carroll, 2004). Substandard housing is associated with higher rates of respiratory conditions, mental health problems and coronary events as well as accidents in the home (Keall, Baker, Howden-Chapman, Cunningham, & Ormandy, 2010). As in many other areas disparities exist in the housing market in NZ. Māori, Pacific and lower socio-economic groups are less likely to own their own homes and more likely to suffer from the effects of poor quality housing. People who own their own homes have better health and lower death rates (Howden-Chapman, 2004).

In New Zealand (NZ) there is a strong tradition of home ownership (Howden-Chapman, Signal, & Crane, 1999) but rates of home ownership are falling as housing prices have risen dramatically in the past decade with a relative increase of over 180% compared to 1990 prices in the period 2002 to 2007 (New Zealand Productivity Commission, 2011). Home ownership is becoming increasingly difficult to attain and waiting lists for social housing are growing (Thorns, 2009). Renting in the private housing market rather than being a temporary situation for many people is now becoming a more permanent reality.

The Productivity Commission has stated that it ‘considers it desirable that the housing market work in such a way as to maximise the options available for quality housing for all New Zealanders regardless of income or tenure choice’ (New Zealand Productivity Commission, 2011). Regulation of private rental housing is a tool available to governments and local bodies to improve the quality of housing.

While some work has been done on the regulation of the rental housing market in NZ, there is a lack of information on the impact of these regulations on the quality of housing. This is due in part to the limited information available on the quality of private rental housing. There has also been little work done on comparing the situation in NZ with that of other OECD countries. Do these countries put health at the heart of their private rental housing policy (e.g. in some countries people may be considered to have a right to adequate housing) or is it a peripheral issue? I propose to fill this gap by comparing NZ with a number of OECD countries: the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Australia and Sweden. I will look at the regulations at both central and local government level pertaining to the rental housing market, such as building and maintenance standards, occupancy standards and tenancy legislation and other policy instruments such as rent control and accommodation supplements.

This dissertation will include a description of the rental housing market in New Zealand including a description of landlords: who are they e.g. private individuals, churches, so-called ‘ma and pa’ investors (Bierre, Howden-Chapman, & Signal, 2010) or cooperatives? Also, I will describe who is living where; which part of the housing market different groups are living in such as those with particular health needs or lower socioeconomic groups. I will describe the trends over time of the private rental market and of home ownership.

This study aims to describe and compare the structure and regulation of the private and public rental housing market in NZ with a number of OECD countries.

Research Question/ objectives
1) To describe the structure of the current private and public rental housing market in NZ.
2) To analyse the regulatory environment.
3) To assess the extent to which persons with particular health needs e.g. are disabled or suffer chronic illness (perhaps as measured by receipt of an Invalid’s Benefit, or ACC weekly compensation) are allotted to particular sectors of the NZ housing market.
4) To compare regulation of the New Zealand housing market to that of the chosen OECD countries.
5) In particular, to examine whether health is a central focus of the rental housing policies of the chosen OECD countries.

This dissertation will be a qualitative descriptive study.

Methods and sources of information
I will undertake a document review of the relevant literature such as international journals and grey literature, a database search and a search of the New Zealand Census, the Household Economic Survey which is a Statistics NZ survey conducted every three years collecting information on household expenditure, income and demographic information and the BRANZ House Condition Survey which is a survey conducted in 2004 to 2005 on the physical condition of 565 randomly chosen houses.

The conceptual framework will be New Institutionalism comparing public and private rental housing regulations in NZ and a number of OECD countries; that is the formal and informal rules that operate in this area.

This study is relevant for public health because it will provide missing information on the structure of the rental housing market in NZ and its regulatory framework. It will also provide a useful comparison of the housing policies of other OECD countries and where NZ sits when it comes to healthy housing policy.


  • Bierre, S., Howden-Chapman, P., & Signal, L. (2010). ‘Ma and Pa’ Landlords and the ‘Risky’ Tenant: Discourses in the New Zealand Private Rental Sector. Housing Studies, 25(1), 21-38.
    Howden-Chapman, P. (2004). Housing standards: a glossary of housing and health. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 58(3), 162-168.
  • Howden-Chapman, P., & Carroll, P., editors. (2004). Housing and health: research, policy and innovation. Wellington: Roger Steele.
  • Howden-Chapman, P., Signal, L., & Crane, J. (1999). Housing and health in older people: ageing in place. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 14-30.
  • Keall, M., Baker, M. G., Howden-Chapman, P., Cunningham, M., & Ormandy, D. (2010). Assessing housing quality and its impact on health, safety and sustainability. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 64(9), 765-771.
  • New Zealand Productivity Commission. (2011). Housing Affordability. Wellington: New Zealand Productivity Commission.
  • Thorns, D. (2009). Housing booms and changes to New Zealand housing affordability: the policy challenge. Journal of Asian Public Policy, 2(2), 171-189.