“This pragmatic package of tenancy law changes will make homes warmer, drier and safer for hundreds of thousands of New Zealand families without imposing excessive bureaucracy or cost,” Dr Smith says.
“The new law will require retrofitting of ceiling and underfloor insulation in rental homes over the next four years. The requirement applies from 1 July 2016 for social housing that is heavily subsidised by Government, and from 1 July 2019 for other rental housing, including boarding houses. There will be exemptions, such as where it is physically impractical to retrofit insulation due to limited space underfloor or inaccessible raked ceilings.
“There will also be a new requirement from 1 July 2016 for all landlords to state in tenancy agreements the level of ceiling, underfloor and wall insulation to help better inform tenants. These new insulation requirements in our tenancy laws are the logical next step following our programme to retrofit insulation in 53,000 state houses and the 280,000 grants from the Warm Up New Zealand scheme.
“Smoke alarms will also be required in all tenanted properties from 1 July 2016. Regulations will make landlords responsible for ensuring an operational smoke alarm is in place, and tenants responsible for replacing batteries or notifying landlords of defects. Long life (10-year) photoelectric alarms will be required where there is no existing alarm or when replacing an existing alarm.
“The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will have new powers to investigate and prosecute landlords for breaking tenancy laws as part of these reforms, particularly where there is risk to the health and safety of tenants. The changes will also ensure tenants can take concerns to the Tenancy Tribunal without fear of being evicted for doing so.
“There will be a new 10-day process introduced to enable re-tenanting of properties where a tenant abandons a property with no intention of returning. The current process can take up to six weeks leaving a house empty and the landlord out of pocket.
“These reforms are to be supported by a $1.5 million information campaign aimed at improving compliance with existing and new tenancy law requirements, as well as providing guidance on the practical ways that homes can be made healthier.
“This package is a more pragmatic and efficient way of improving housing standards than a housing warrant of fitness scheme. Such a scheme would cost $100 million per year, or $225 per house for inspections alone, and these costs would be passed on to tenants in rents. This is money we believe is better spent on real improvements like insulation and smoke alarms. Significant issues like leaky roofs, insecure doors, excessive dampness and unsafe wiring are already covered by existing regulations, and the better response is tougher enforcement. Other issues like window stays, glass visibility safety strips and hot water temperature are best improved by education.
“The Government is proceeding with the insulation and smoke alarm requirements because they are practical and deliver benefits far in excess of the costs. The insulation retrofitting is expected to cost $600 million, with benefits of $2.10 for each dollar of this cost. The smoke alarms are expected to cost $7 million and provide benefits of $15.10 per dollar of cost. Officials estimate the flow-on effect on rents for a property requiring ceiling and underfloor insulation and a new smoke alarm to be $3.20 per week.
“These reforms will require 180,000 homes to be insulated and the 120,000 homes currently without smoke alarms to have them installed. The health benefits of this will be reduced hospitalisations from circulatory and respiratory illnesses, reduced pharmaceutical costs, and fewer days off work and school. The smoke alarms are expected to save three lives per year,” Dr Smith says.
The package announced today was agreed to by Cabinet on Monday and will be included in a Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill to be introduced to Parliament by October. The specific regulations on the insulation and smoke alarms will be consulted on in parallel with the select committee process.
Related documents are available at: www.mbie.govt.nz/what-we-do/housing/changes-to-residential-tenancies-act.