Why do we need the Healthy Homes Standards?

15 May 2020

The Healthy Homes standards became law in New Zealand on 1 July 2019. While the introduction of the standards was warmly welcomed by renters, it was strongly contended by a number of landlords. The new legislation puts the quality of rental properties under the microscope, assigning landlords a raft of new obligations. Any work required to meet the new standards also needs to be paid for by landlords themselves, with increased penalties if they fail to comply.

As a result, it’s easy to look at the immediate impact of the standards and feel like, as a landlord, you’re suddenly facing unprecedented scrutiny. However, it’s important to understand why the healthy homes standards were created in the first place. In this blog, we’ll explore the research and reasoning behind the new legislation. 

What are the Healthy Homes Standards?

The standards are comprised of five key elements. The Government has identified these areas as having a significant impact on rental quality and tenant wellbeing.

  1. Insulation
  2. Heating
  3. Ventilation
  4. Moisture ingress and drainage
  5. Draught stopping

For each of these areas, the Government has created specific requirements that rental properties need to meet. If landlords fail to comply with these standards by 1 July 2021, they could face exemplary damages of up to $4,000.

HOT TIP: Although the compliance date isn’t until 1 July 2021, rental property owners do need to start acting earlier. From 1 July 2020, landlords will need to attach a statement of their property’s current compliance to all new tenancy agreements or fixed-term renewals. Get yourself prepared by reading more about the timeline for the healthy homes standards.

Why are the Healthy Homes Standards important?

In essence, the standards were created in an effort to improve tenant wellbeing. In doing so, the standards also provide rental property owners with clarification of their legal obligations as a landlord. 

The Ministry of Housing and Development (HUD) states that the healthy homes standards will:

“make it easier for renters to achieve warmer, drier homes, helping to reduce mould and damp and the potential for associated health conditions. They will also provide a clear set of minimum standards all landlords will need to provide their tenants.”

But, why is this so important? Is the quality of rental properties in New Zealand really that bad? To put it simply, yes.

The research behind the standards

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends indoor temperatures should be a minimum of 18°C and even more (21°C) if there are elderly or infants living in the household. Indoor temperatures that fall below 16°C can increase respiratory illnesses and exacerbate existing conditions. However, a recent study by Statistics New Zealand found that a third of Kiwi homes are too cold during winter. 

Dr Claire Bretherton, manager of wellbeing and housing statistics, spoke of the extremity of these results, "For people living in homes where the recorded temperature was lower than 16°C, 45 per cent said they could see their breath inside during winter and 36 per cent rated their house as always or often cold."

Unfortunately, cold houses are also more likely to be damp. Moisture condenses on cold surfaces and can cause mould to grow. Some of the potential effects of living with mould include:

  • Aggravating symptoms of respiratory illness
  • Causing material damage (to both tenant’s personal property and the home)
  • Contributing to the psychological stress of living in a cold home
  • Reducing the quality and value of a property

Similarly, more than a third of New Zealand homes are too warm in the hotter months, rising to 25°C or more in summer. This frequent lack of temperature regulation can cause significant issues for tenants and result in major property damage if left unattended to.

Will the standards actually change anything?

Great question! Research carried out by researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington, found that insulation improved the health of occupants with respiratory diseases and made houses warmer and drier. The Housing, Insulation and Health Study found that insulation also reduced dampness and mould in the participating households. Participants in insulated homes even reported taking fewer days off school and work.

After these encouraging results, the researchers followed up with a second study, The Housing, Heating and Health Study. During this time, they found that with improved heating:

  • Mould and associated smells were reduced
  • There was less condensation
  • Less coughing and wheezing was reported by children with asthma
  • Fewer incidents reported of children having colds

Both of these studies, along with many others across the globe, attest the idea that proper heating, insulation and ventilation can have huge effects on the living conditions and wellbeing of tenants.

Should landlords be responsible for the health of their tenants?

This is a controversial question. The reality is, investing in property is not the same as buying shares. As a landlord, real people will live in your property and they will be directly affected by your decisions. 

Almost 600,000 households rent in New Zealand and research shows that rental housing is generally of poorer quality than owner-occupied properties. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the bottom line is landlords are responsible for the quality of their properties. Like any other industry, there are regulations for the residential rental market. Restaurants need to take care to ensure that their food doesn’t make patrons sick. Similarly, landlords need to make sure that their properties aren’t going to make their tenants sick.

Most landlords already do this – in our experience, landlords genuinely care about the wellbeing of their tenants. Healthy Homes is an opportunity to use new findings and create a base standard for all properties in New Zealand, ensuring no one is left behind.

Additional benefits for landlords:

For rental property owners, further benefits could include:

  • Reduced property maintenance costs
  • Prevention of significant damage from mould and moisture
  • Avoiding potential costs caused by moisture damage
  • Attracting long-term tenants
  • Reduced and/or easily resolved disputes with tenants
  • Improvements in tenant-landlord relationships
  • Increases in the value of your property
  • Properties are  easier and more affordable to heat

For both tenants and landlords, the advantages are aplenty. Even if you prefer to look at your rental property investment as a spreadsheet, fixing a hole or a drip now can save you a fortune down the road. In the end, the Healthy Homes Standards are a win-win situation.

How a property manager can help

The Healthy Homes rollout is well and truly in progress. Between the impending compliance date, the Covid-19 outbreak, and the proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, fulfilling your obligations as a landlord can be a lot to handle. 

Property management support is a simple way to take the pressure off and give you the confidence required to navigate the evolving rental market. Quinovic is New Zealand’s largest specialist residential rental management company. We have a solid support network, invaluable relationships with tradespeople, and over 30 years of experience. Our property management specialists can provide expert advice to help you meet the Healthy Homes Standards and any further housing legislation. Simply give us a call for a free consultation or book a free rental appraisal online.

Want to learn more?

At Quinovic, we’re passionate about sharing our knowledge. If you want to learn more about how the Healthy Homes Standards affect you as a landlord, check out our online Knowledge Centre.

If you feel something is missing, or you have any questions about how a property manager might be able to help, please get in touch. We’d love to talk about how we can work together to maximise your returns and improve the rental experience for both you and your tenants.

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