By 1 July 2019, all landlords need to ensure their rental properties have ceiling and underfloor insulation according to the Residential Tenancies Act or risk penalties.
Key points to know about the ceiling and underfloor insulation standards:
- Failing to meet these standards by 1 July 2019 could incur penalties of up to $4000
- Landlords may face separate damages for every property that doesn’t comply
- The government can act against landlords (in the Tenancy Tribunal and District Court) without initial complaints or alerts from tenants
Why is this being done?
The Residential Tenancies Act address inequalities and the health of the city’s more vulnerable citizens. On average, rental homes are twice as poor in quality as owner-occupied homes; and with one-third of New Zealand households – nearly 600,000 – renting, it’s a serious and wide-reaching issue.
Owners are responsible for managing the quality of homes; and while many landlords maintain and upgrade their properties, there are those who don’t, leaving tenants living in cold, damp homes which can lead to health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
With renting on the rise, poor housing standards are impacting an increasing number of people. The 2013 census showed that since 2001 there have been significant drops in homeownership for Aucklanders, especially among those in their thirties, forties, and fifties.
An added bonus
Insulating ceilings and floors also help to lower carbon emissions by requiring less heat to keep the house warm. Better-insulated houses are warmer, healthier and more energy efficient, contributing to Auckland’s low carbon goals to achieve better home energy efficiency.
My wife and I used to be landlords, having two residential rental properties at one point.
We also spent seven years as tenants, before purchasing our first home in our late 20s. The majority of landlords and tenants are excellent, however as a country we have laws that provide safety and security where exceptions exist.
This coalition Government fundamentally believe that all New Zealanders should have access to warm, dry housing; it’s a key to living a fulfilling and productive life.
That’s why we have recently announced new rules to ensure all rental homes are warm, dry and healthy. These rules will require all rentals to be fully insulated up to the current Building Code standards and have a fixed heating source, such as a heat pump or wood burner. It’s important that we all have the ability to heat our living areas to a safe, healthy temperature, particularly in the southern areas of New Zealand.
Homes will also be drier under these changes, because kitchens will need to have range hoods and bathrooms will require extractor fans.
Most landlords comply with these rules already, but for those who don’t, they will need to upgrade their properties. This investment benefits both landlords and tenants, as it lengthens the life of the capital investment.
Education is also an important factor in healthy housing, such as: opening windows at the start of the day, closing them before sunset, and opening the oven door after cooking. All these help keep homes healthy and save money.
The Healthy Homes Standards aren’t the only one way the government is making sure every New Zealander lives in a home that is warm and dry.
We’ve also made funding available to help people who own their own homes, but can’t afford to insulate. Please visit the Energywise website at:
www.energywise.govt.nz/tools/warmer-kiwi-homes-tool to see if you are eligible.
Last year we introduced the Winter Energy Payment to help a million Kiwis keep their heater on during the coldest months. The feedback on this policy, particularly from pensioners, has been very positive. This year, the payment will begin on 1 May and run through to t October.
Nearly one in three New Zealand households rent, and for too long many have struggled to heat their homes affordably and efficiently. Around 200,000 families live in rentals that don’t have ceiling or underfloor insulation.
Of Hamiltonians, 42 per cent are renting, and many of these people would like to purchase their own home. We are actively working with developers around the delivery of affordable housing. New Zealand’s superannuation system works well when people own a freehold house; however, it can be challenging for those still paying a mortgage or rent. This highlights the importance of high home-ownership rates.
Our country needs a range of housing, rather than only four-bedroom/two-bathroom houses on 800 sq m sections.
We all have different house requirements throughout the various stages of our lives.
Scientific evidence from the World Health Organisation tells us that cold, damp housing can severely impact people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Mental health will be a key priority for this year’s budget, and housing is linked to this.
Many of us take the ability to keep our homes warm and dry in winter for granted. But it’s not that way for everyone in our communities.
These changes mean New Zealanders young and old will be warm and dry in the winters to come.
Even after being told their houses weren’t up to scratch homeowners weren’t convinced they needed to fix the problems, a study in Taranaki has found.
The University of Otago study found that 92 percent of the homes they commissioned assessments for failed, and not all owners planned to amend their home’s health and safety issues.
The assessments, which took place in 2017 but have only just been published in a report, found 76 of the 83 Taranaki homes surveyed with the university’s ‘warrant of fitness’ (Wof) failed.
Wise Better Homes, a non-profit charitable trust that installs insulation in the Taranaki region, organised trained assessors to carry out the assessments.
The Wof is a pass or fail tool that consists of 29 criteria that researchers believe have an important impact on health, safety energy efficiency.
In terms of components related to safety, most properties passed the criteria for lighting, power outlets and light switches, and intact wall, ceiling, and floor linings.
Among injury hazards, it was most common for properties to fail the following criteria: having paths, decks, and surfaces non-slippery and free of moss and having window security stays where required in the living area.
The study arose to see if homeowners would make voluntary improvements to their homes if they failed the Wof.
And when homeowners were interviewed after they received a report highlighting their property’s issues it was found not all planned to amend everything.
Of the 40 homeowners interviewed in the study, 31 planned to fix at least one of the issues.
However, many said they would not fix all the failings of their homes.
Researchers found participants were least likely to address issues such as security stays on windows and absence of ground vapour barrier.
For some cost was a factor, whereas others didn’t believe that the identified improvement would make a difference to health and safety in the home.
Report co-author Dr Lucy Telfar-Barnard said in a media release this shows the importance of knowledge to encourage housing improvements.
“Some people said they wouldn’t install a ground vapour barrier because it was dry under the house – not realising that even dry ground releases damp which rises into homes,” Telfar-Barnard said.
“Providing people with information on just how each housing defect affects health and safety may encourage people to make improvements.”
The researchers highlighted the importance of understanding the risks of the wof failings, and the need for potential funding support.
“Providing funding support to make improvements, as well as additional information to explain how improvements are likely to boost the health and safety of occupants and of visitors, could encourage owners to make improvements that have demonstrated health and safety benefits,” the report read.
Despite the majority of the homes failing their inspections overall they had passed the majority of the 29 items.
The research was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health
The Tenancy Tribunal has fined landlords in Auckland, Whanganui and Wellington $17,000 for illegal activities including misleading statements on insulation, failing to lodge bonds and allowing tenants to live in buildings listed as dangerous.
West Auckland landlord and boarding house owner Peter Wheeler, a Whanganui maintenance business and Wellington landlord Perry Rama incurred the fines for not meeting their obligations under the law, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
“The tribunal has recently made orders totalling nearly $17,000 against three landlords as a result of investigations launched by the tenancy compliance and investigations team,” a statement issued today said.
Peter Hackshaw, team acting national manager, said assessments and investigations were made proactively to ensure landlords were treating rental properties as businesses and meeting their responsibilities.
“Landlords who are not meeting their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act can expect to be held to account, as is the case with these three landlords,” Hackshaw said.
Wheeler, with five West Auckland places, was ordered to pay $12,344.64 for failing to lodge tenants’ bond money. The adjudicator described his actions as being “intended to avoid the need to forward bond money to the Bond Centre” and “to avoid future scrutiny by the Tenancy Tribunal”.
Wanganui Home Maintenance must pay $3563.52 after eight applications for failing to lodge bonds, failing to maintain premises and providing misleading insulation statements which the adjudicator said “…indicate[d] to the tenants that there was some insulation in the ceilings, which was not the case at all”.
Wellington Landlord Perry Rama agreed to pay $1000 after allowing tenants to return to their rented property while it was still the subject of a Wellington City Council dangerous building notice. He also agreed to pass the management of the properties on to a property management company, the statement said.
Hackshaw said tenants needed to trust that their landlords were complying with tenancy law from the start of the relationship. Failing to lodge bond money was a breach of this trust, as is providing inaccurate information on insulation, he said.
“If landlords don’t have the time and knowledge to manage their rental properties as a business, they should pass them on to someone who does,” Hackshaw said.
Mandating healthy home solutions in rentals risks another meth debacle
The methamphetamine debacle, which spawned a cowboy industry almost overnight and ended up needlessly costing mom-and-pop landlords thousands of dollars, should serve as a timely warning to the New Zealand Government about the dangers of prescribing blanket solutions on landlords without proper scientific backing.
CEO of New Zealand healthy homes tech start-up Tether, Brandon Van Blerk, said regulators and media need to be careful to avoid hysteria over damp and mould in houses similar to that which gripped the country during the methamphetamine debacle.
“Mouldy, cold and damp homes are unquestionably a problem in New Zealand and are the cause of disproportionate levels of cardio vascular disease and death in our country, but mandating that every rental property must have insulation and heat pumps isn’t necessarily going to fix the problem.
“Some homes are warm without insulation, while others are damp despite insulation and ventilation. We are at risk once again of not treating each home on its merits. Instead, Government is forcing blanket solutions on people that could give rise to landlords being ripped off yet again,” Van Blerk said.
The founder of Tether – which manufactures low cost technology that measures the environmental conditions in a home in real-time – says that already property managers are telling stories of landlords being sold solutions they don’t necessarily need.
“Anecdotally I know of one landlord installing extractor fans in the bathroom to solve the build-up of damp and mould, but the fan didn’t make any difference. The solution ended up being a shower dome and lighting change.”
Van Blerk said it is not the role of Government to mandate solutions.
“Government’s role should be to prescribe standards. The requirement for living areas to be warmed to at least 18 degrees Celsius is a great standard, but how the landlord achieves that standard should be determined by the best remedy for each individual and unique house, not a blanket prescription.
“Government’s intentions are good and a step in the right direction, but the way they have done it is not effective and could stimulate the start-up of another cowboy industry,” he warned.
While in the past the ability to measure environmental conditions in a rental property was onerous, subjective and difficult to achieve to a quality scientific standard – one that would stand up in a tenancy tribunal hearing – that is no longer the case.
“The technology is there, and it is extremely accurate, cheap and virtually maintenance free. In provides real-time data 24 hours a day and seven days a week, whether people are in the home or not.
“Early childhood education centres, which have had environmental conditions prescribed on them for years, are already using the technology,” Van Blerk said.