Landlords face a $4000 fine if their properties are uninsulated on July 1 – but insulation companies say time’s run out and if they haven’t done it by now, bad luck. The Spinoff’s Don Rowe reports

Two weeks out from the Residential Tenancies Act insulation deadline the industry has reached total capacity, with businesses warning there is “absolutely no way” New Zealand’s housing stock will be insulated on time.

Anne Fletcher, owner-operator of Auckland Insulation, said her company was facing unprecedented demand compounded by manufacturer delays with a workload exceeding anything she’d seen in almost 30 years in the industry.

“Some manufacturers have really had a huge issue in April and May, we were putting orders in then that we didn’t get until June,” she said. “We’re facing a massive workload. Everyone is trying really hard, and the main thing that annoys me is when property managers with 40 houses ring me and want to send a list of 40 properties through. Where have you been for the last four years?

“I’ve been doing this 28 years and seen a lot of companies come and go, and we’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve doubled our numbers of staff and everything, but the problem is doing the quoting and assessing – I’ve got 28 years’ experience I can’t inject into a new employee, because there are so many different factors to allow for. Not every house is a square box.”

The regulations, passed by the National government in 2016, require landlords to install underfloor and overhead insulation in rentals unless it was “either physically impossible to insulate, or would require major renovations to do so” by July 1 on penalty of a $4000 fine.

2018 MBIE report estimated there were between 126,000 and 220,000 houses left to insulate as of December last year, with industry capacity for 50,000 to 60,000 properties each year. Now, six months later, businesses across the country are almost incapacitated by the workload, and MBIE says there are no extensions available under the RTA as it would be “unfair to those landlords who have acted in time to do the right thing”.

“The requirement to insulate was widely publicised in 2016 when the changes to the RTA were made, and Tenancy Services has worked hard to ensure landlords are aware of their responsibilities by running an extensive information and education campaign,” said Peter Hackshaw, acting national manager, Tenancy Compliance and Investigations.

“Landlords have had ample time and information to get the required work done and failing to comply is not only unlawful, it also exposes tenants to potential harm by not having a home that is warm and dry enough during the winter months.”

Researchers from the University of Otago estimate poor housing costs the country more than $145 million annually in preventable illness and injury. In 2015 Otara toddler Emma-Lita Bourne’s death was attributed in part to the damp, cold state house in which she lived. Last year Dr Lance O’Sullivan reported visiting freezing homes with water running down the internal walls, where children were contracting third-world illnesses.

Anne Fletcher said her firm was receiving too many inquiries to respond to on a daily basis, and both her landline and cellphone were almost unusable.

“We’re getting easily in excess of 30 emails coming in a day, and the phones are going off constantly – they’re calling right now even as I talk to you. But it’s good to have the legislation in place and especially for investors overseas, by all means ping them, but don’t sting mum and dad landlords for $4000 – we all have to have patience.”

Fletcher also expressed doubts Tenancy Services would have capacity to prosecute the thousands of landlords who won’t make the deadline.

About 100,000 rental properties likely to miss insulation deadline

Renters whose freezing homes won’t be insulated before new regulations come into effect next month say they have no power in getting their landlords to bring them up to scratch.

From July, landlords must ensure their rental properties have floor and ceiling insulation where possible.

A manager for the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Steve Watson estimated 100,000 properties did not meet those standards.

Mr Watson said that was concerning.

“The intent of the legislation, which was passed back in 2016, was that as many of New Zealand’s rental properties where practicable should be fully insulated and landlords have had considerable time to do that, and it appears that they have not acted.”

For landlords who have yet to book in to have their homes insulated, it’s unlikely they will make it in time for the 1 July deadline.

Insulation companies are reporting backlogs until the end of next month and Anne Fletcher of Auckland Insulation said some could be waiting until August.

“Don’t be thinking that you can ring a company in the last week of June and think that you can get the job installed in a week, because it ain’t going to happen.”

Mr Watson said there would not be any extensions granted for landlords who did not have their homes up to the new standards by 1 July.

Landlords who do not comply could face fines of up to $4000 but Mr Watson urged tenants to speak to their landlords and try to work things through with them in the first instance, before contacting MBIE.

“I believe that most landlords want to do the right thing and have been slow to act and have now been caught out by the fact that there is a limited number of suppliers,” he said.

Wellington renter Hayley – who lives in a freezing cold, damp flat – said it was totally unrealistic for renters to call landlords to account.

“If there’s record of you going after a landlord for a fine then that will travel with you even if it’s not in the immediate term.

“I think that landlords do have the power in this situation and I think that property managers are always on side with them, rather than tenants.”

Hayley said she and her two flatmates paid $610 a week for their flat, which had no insulation, was damp and had no heating sources.

They wrap up with hats, blankets and hot water bottles to try to keep warm – and Hayley said she did not expect that to change by next month.

“You kind of get a feel for what your landlord’s going to be like with other, littler things.

“There’s been a leaking tap … since I moved in months ago and the landlord said someone would look at it but that’s never happened.

“Personally, I know they’re very unresponsive so why would I really even bother with pursuing anything else?”

MBIE said it had 27 staff in its compliance and investigations team to investigate complaints about rentals which are not insulated come 1 July.