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.
A 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.