More than 20,000 of the 199,000 people who declare income from rental properties live overseas, according to Inland Revenue Department figures released on Tuesday by Housing Minister Nick Smith.
But Dr Smith insists the number is low compared with other countries, and says he won’t be wasting money pursuing the issue.
New Zealand’s opposition Labour and Green parties want to crack down on the level of foreign ownership which they say is inflating the housing bubble and making homes more unaffordable.
They have called for a register for foreign purchases, which the ruling National party has rejected, saying many New Zealanders live outside of the country and there isn’t enough data.
The 20,000 figure includes expat New Zealanders living overseas.
A Treasury report released on Tuesday shows the government had data on the level of foreign ownership – although it noted there was a lack of comprehensive data.
The report estimated less than five per cent of all New Zealand homes were sold to buyers who weren’t planning to live in New Zealand – though some of them were likely to be New Zealanders.
Dr Smith says he read the report sometime in March or April. It was sent to Finance Minister Bill English in June last year.
Labour leader David Cunliffe has said foreigners that don’t live in New Zealand would be banned from buying residential property under a Labour government.
The Green Party and New Zealand First have also called for restrictions on foreign buyers.