COMMENT: Furore over Healthy Homes story misleading
Tuesday 8 September 2020
NZPIF president Andrew King
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. It’s a tried and tested adage – and it’s one the NZ Property Investors Federation president felt the brunt of yesterday, muses NZ Property Investor editor Miriam Bell.
The day opened with a New Zealand Herald headline screaming “Landlords ‘should wait on election result’ before installing heating: lobby”.
The article was prompted by a confirmation from National Party leader Judith Collins that, if her party wins the election, it would get rid of the Healthy Homes standards bought in by the Labour-led government.
But it was the words attributed to NZPIF president Andrew King that caused a furore, particularly on social media which reacted with typical fury.
According to the article, King said that landlords should wait to see who wins the election (on October 17) before upgrading their rental properties to the new standards, which include a heating standard.
The article claimed that King said a National Party win would mean that rather than landlords having to install modern heat pumps, they would instead be able to ask tenants if they wanted one.
There was immediate kick-back from Associate Housing Minister Kris Faafoi, who said it would be deeply disappointing if landlords were being given such advice, and, even more so, from the Green Party.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said it is appalling and negligent that landlords are being encouraged to keep their properties cold and damp until after the election.
“That advice from a property lobby group is despicable and, quite frankly, dangerous. Landlords should instead seek to do right by their tenants and abide by the law and make sure their homes are fit to live in.”
She called on landlords to make sure they get on with complying with the current laws as quickly as possible.
But the big problem with the whole situation is that the words ascribed to King were a misrepresentation of what he actually said.
King told landlords.co.nz that the NZPIF is certainly not urging landlords to not put heat pumps into their rental properties.
“In fact, we have been promoting them to our members for 10 years and we have long offered deals to make it easier for our members to buy and install them.
“We think they are a good way of heating properties. But they are expensive and that cost can often lead to a raise in rents.”
Additionally, while many tenants love heat pumps, feedback from NZPIF members is that a significant proportion of tenants don’t want them or don’t use them if provided, King says.
While rental properties must comply with the Healthy Home standards within 90 days of any new, or renewed, tenancy from 1 July 2021, it is not until 1 July 2024 that all rental properties must legally comply.
For that reason, King told the reporter that landlords should discuss with their tenants whether they want a heat pump in the more immediate future.
“I think it is reasonable to consider your tenants’ wishes. But I didn’t say to the reporter that landlords should simply delay installing heat pumps.”
King says the NZPIF has always seen the landlord/tenant relationship as a service provider/customer one.
“We supported compulsory insulation in rental properties and we agree with many aspects of the Labour-led Government’s Healthy Homes legislation.
“But we do believe there needs to be some more flexibility around the types of heating that are permitted in order for a rental property to meet the heating standard.”
For the NZPIF to be portrayed as a group which wants to install tenants in poor-quality properties and rip them off was gutting and an inaccurate representation of the group and its members, King adds.
While King fully engaged with media to try and correct the impression generated by the coverage, it seems that many on social media were choosing to ignore those efforts.
There seems little doubt that many of those spouting anti-landlord rhetoric would be inclined to think that way anyway: the original headline is what they will believe - and want others to believe.
As such, the situation clearly shows how true it is that it is often not convenient to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Ultimately, what is worrying though is that such coverage is likely to convince more tenants that all landlords are out to exploit them.
It’s hard to see how that helps either tenants or good landlords as it simply does more damage to the already increasingly sensitive landlord-tenant relationship.
One final aside: it would be unwise for landlords to think that the Healthy Homes standards – or the recent tenancy law reforms – could be immediately removed should the government change at the election.
That’s because new governments cannot simply declare they don’t want a piece of legislation anymore and get rid of it. Rather there’s a whole legislative process that goes with repealing, revoking, or even amending an Act. And should that process actually happen, it takes time.
For that reason, landlord groups (like the NZPIF and other property investor associations) and property industry bodies (like REINZ) are urging landlords to remember the Healthy Homes standards are law and to observe the associated compliance timeframes.
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