Call to beef up proposed rental standards

Thursday 18 February 2016

Enforcement provisions in proposed insulation and smoke alarm requirements should be strengthened, the Select Committee is told.

By Miriam Bell

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill, which includes proposals that will require landlords to install insulation and smoke alarms in all residential properties, is currently before the Social Services Select Committee.

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith said the Bill aims to make homes warmer, drier and safer for New Zealanders who live in rental accommodation, without imposing excessive costs on landlords.

However, controversy has surrounded the path of the legislation as many believe the government should instead be introducing a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) for all rental properties.

This argument has been advanced by the Labour Party, the Green Party, tenant advocates and some academics.

Now the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills, has joined the debate.

He told the Select Committee the Bill was “shameful” as it would do little to for children living in cold, damp, mouldy housing.

Not only is there no heating or ventilation standard in the Bill, but tenants will have to complain if they believe the property is not up to standard, Wills said.

“Without heating or enforcement these changes will have little impact for children. An insulated but unheated house is still a cold house. Tenants don’t and won’t complain. Children will therefore continue to live in cold, damp, mouldy, private rental houses.”

Wills said the Bill should be amended to include three elements that would ensure houses are warm and dry.

These are a requirement for all houses to meet the current insulation standard, application of a heating and ventilation standard, and the introduction of monitoring or enforcement, with inspections, by local government, with inspections.

Community Housing Aotearoa (CHA) also submitted that the Bill’s enforcement provisions should be improved.

CHA co-chairperson Julie Nelson said they require tenants to report problems rather than for landlords to show they meet minimum requirements.

“Tenants lack confidence or fear that there may be retribution if they report a landlord for unfit housing.

“The Bill needs to find a better way to enforce new housing standards that don’t put vulnerable tenants at risk.”

Insulation was only half the answer, heating was also crucial, Nelson said.

However, the NZ Property Investors Federation, which supports the Bill, believes the issues are more complex.

NZPIF executive officer Andrew King agrees that heating and ventilation are key.

But he said landlords find that even if energy efficient heating, like heat pumps, is put in, some of their properties still show signs of being cold and damp.

This is often because tenants are reluctant to use the heating for cost reasons.

“Solutions need to be cost effective. Otherwise rents will rise higher than they need to, making it even harder for tenants to turn on their heaters."

By making insulation and heating items tax deductible, the government would reduce the impact on rising rental prices and make savings on health expenditure, King said.

The NZPIF has previously said that the harder it is for investors to provide rental property, the more expensive and restrictive it will be for tenants.

Arguments for a comprehensive WOF for rental properties are likely to continue over coming months as the Bill continues through the Parliamentary process.

Further, the Green Party’s Residential Tenancies (Warm, Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill is still in the Parliamentary ballot.

Comments from our readers

On 29 February 2016 at 11:37 pm Peter L said:
So why do these proposed requirements just cover rental properties rather than all properties? Are owner-occupiers somehow immune to health problems?

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