A south Auckland tenant has been awarded $30,000 from the tenancy tribunal after his family spent three years living in a sleepout with no insulation or sufficient ventilation.
Sukhmander Singh Brar and his family had rented the property on Takanini School Rd from PFSL Rentals Ltd.
Brar told the Tenancy Tribunal he wanted a full refund of rent because the property he was living in had been “unlawful”.
Tribunal adjudicator Jack Tam agreed the property was unlawful because it had only been consented as a “games room” or additional sleepout.
It also opened out directly to a hazardous in-ground swimming pool which was not maintained and derelict.
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Auckland Council confirmed that due to thoroughfare issues, the pool was unsafe and failed mandatory swimming pool fencing inspections.
Council inspectors noted the pool area was used to access the sleepout by tenants and was the only way to get into the unit.
There was also insufficient ventilation to the unit which became more apparent when Brar’s wife was cooking inside the unit.
Brar said there were only two windows inside the living room area and both would have to be opened every time someone was cooking.
“Due to the landlord’s failure to comply with requirements in respect of buildings, health, and safety, and the nature of the dwelling, it is clear to me that the unit should not have been let out to anyone,” Tam said.
“The only redeeming feature is that Mr Brar and his family had a roof over their head in the unit for three years when they paid a modest sum of $210.00 rent per week from 18 November 2017 to 7 February 2020 and $220.00 rent per week from 8 February 2020 to 20 September 2020.”
The tribunal ordered PFSL Rentals Ltd to pay $30,000 to Brar immediately.
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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.
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.