‘Healthy home’ rental property standards announced

The Government has announced new minimum standards for rental houses. The health aims are laudable, but are the practical or enforceable?

And will they result in more people dumping their property investments? This adds to financial disincentives for landlords, which will increase further if a more comprehensive property Capital Gains Tax looks likely as recommended by the Tax Working Group.

I wonder why this has been announced on a Sunday?

Standards to make homes warm and dry released

The new healthy homes standards to make rental properties warmer and drier were today announced by Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford.

The standards set minimum requirements for heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture and drainage, and draught stopping in residential rental properties. They reflect feedback from a wide range of public health experts, stakeholders including landlords, tenants and building experts.

Phil Twyford said making sure all New Zealanders had warm, dry homes was one of the most important public health changes the Government could make.

“Nearly 600,000 households rent in New Zealand, and our rental stock is of poorer quality than owner-occupied homes. It’s estimated about 200,000 families live in rental homes that do not have ceiling or underfloor insulation.

“The Ministry of Health says 6,000 children are admitted each year for ‘housing-sensitive hospitalisations’. These children have been found to be nearly four times more likely to be re-hospitalised and 10 times more likely to die in the following 10 years. We cannot continue to accept this.”

The new standards go a long way toward making rental homes healthier for tenants:

  • All rental homes will be required to have a heater that can heat the main living area to 18oC.
  • Rental homes must have ceiling and underfloor insulation that either meets the 2008 Building Code insulation standard, or (for existing ceiling insulation) has a minimum thickness of 120mm.
  • Rental homes will also be drier under these changes as kitchens and bathrooms will have to have extraction fans or rangehoods.
  • Where rental homes have an enclosed subfloor space  property owners will need to install a ground moisture barrier to stop moisture rising into the home
  • The standards also reinforce existing law that says landlords must have adequate drainage and guttering to prevent water entering the home.
  • Draughts that make a home harder to heat will have to be blocked.

“The standards are pragmatic, enduring and don’t impose an unreasonable burden on landlords and industry while being mindful that renters need to have warmer and drier homes as soon as possible,” Phil Twyford says.

The next step is for the standards to be drafted in regulations and approved by Cabinet. The regulations will become law by mid-2019.

Compliance timeline for the new standards:

  • 1 July 2021 – From this date, private landlords must ensure that their rental properties comply with the healthy home standards within 90 days of any new tenancy.
  • 1 July 2021 – All boarding houses must comply with the healthy home standards.
  • 1 July 2023 – All Housing New Zealand houses and registered Community Housing Providers houses must comply with the healthy home standards.
  • 1 July 2024 – All rental homes must comply with the healthy home standards.

For more information on the healthy homes standards visit the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development website.

Debate on Healthy Homes bill

Andrew Little’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill passed it’s first vote in parliament last night 61 to 60, thanks to the deciding vote of Peter Dunne.

But Dunne said that nothing should be taken for granted on United Future’s position on the bill.

Although UnitedFuture today voted in favour of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, allowing it to be sent to Select Committee.  UnitedFuture leader, Peter Dunne, says a rethink is needed when it comes to the issue of ensuring healthy homes and healthy families.

In supporting this Bill to Select Committee, Mr Dunne said that his support is qualified.

“This Bill must do more to address how to provide support to those most in need to ensure them a healthy home that is also an affordable one.  This now puts the ball firmly in the Government’s court to respond with detailed policy of its own in this area.

“United Future’s position on this Bill is dependent on the Government’s response and nothing should be taken for granted at this stage”, said Mr Dunne.

This indicates that Dunne has allowed the bill to proceed but wants to now see what the Government might do about it. Dunne said that a rethink was necessary.

Although UnitedFuture today voted in favour of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, allowing it to be sent to Select Committee.  UnitedFuture leader, Peter Dunne, says a rethink is needed when it comes to the issue of ensuring healthy homes and healthy families.

“It’s a basic good to have a warm and safe place to call home, but when it comes to the Government setting bottom-lines for rentals, the key issue is affordability and that’s what I’m calling on the select committee to consider”.

The Bill requires the development of a minimum standard of heating, insulation, draught stops ventilation and temperature in all rental properties in New Zealand, but it does not provide any relief for the rising costs that will likely be passed on to renters.

“It’s a noble cause to want to increase housing standards but what we need to focus on is increasing the ability of renters and landlords to be able to access affordable ways of heating and future-proofing their houses.

“It’s all very well to require a method of heating, but that doesn’t mean much if you can’t afford the increased cost of electricity”, Mr Dunne said.

UnitedFuture policy does not see government mandate as the solution to housing standards and the Party would rather see the Government set aside funding to provide landlords and renters access to technology and resource to future-proof their homes and make them warmer and more affordable.

In his speech introducing his bill Little pointed out:

But it is interesting that the Commissioner for Children had this to say in relation to a Budget promise made a few years ago by this Government that undertook to make homes healthy again.

He said that the Government’s bill that was currently going through this Parliament failed to meet that promise.

So between the two bills we might end up with something better, although it won’t be easy to ensure homes are healthier in practical and workable ways.

“That undertook to make homes healthy again” is an odd statement from Little. Newer houses are generally much healthier than older houses, insulation has improved substantially and heating options are cleaner and cheaper to run with the big uptake of heat pumps.

Before the first reading Minister of Housing Nick Smith was critical of the time frame in the Bill in a Beehive media release:

Little detail in Labour bill leaves Govt cold

Labour’s so-called Healthy Homes Bill is lacking in detail, slow in timing and unworkable in practise, Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“The surprising flaw in Mr Little’s Bill is that it has a timetable four years slower for insulating rental properties than the Government’s Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill. Mr Little’s Bill provides for 12 months before it comes into effect, six months for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to develop an insulating standard and then five years for compliance.

“Assuming the Bill went through a normal select committee process of six months, this works out at July 2023. The Government requires compliance by July 2019.”

He also points out a potentially significant flaw:

“This Bill is unworkable in requiring a landlord to maintain all rental property at a specified minimum indoor temperature – although it does not actually state what the temperature is.”

You can lead a tenant to a well insulated home with good heating options but you can’t make them use their heaters, leave their doors and windows closed, pull their curtains and ventilate the house so it doesn’t get too damp.

“Mr Little’s Bill is too little too late. It is a poor substitute for the Government’s detailed and practical measures that will make New Zealand rental properties warmer, dryer and safer,” Dr Smith concluded.

Dunne’s vote and his challenge to the Government has put pressure on Smith to do better with his plans to help make more homes healthier. That’s smart MMP at work.

Little’s introduction of the bill: Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill introduced


Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill introduced

Andrew Little’s introduction of his Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill in Parliament yesterday. It passed it’s first vote 61 to 60 thanks to the deciding vote of Peter Dunne.

Draft transcript:

Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2)

First Reading

ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) be now read a first time. I nominate the Government Administration Committee to consider the bill.

It sometimes looks from the outside that much of what we do in this House does not look like it has a lot of significance, or at least you do not get to see the significance of it. Sometimes it feels that way too when you are sitting in this House.

But the bill that we are considering now will help thousands of New Zealanders, and most importantly, it will help thousands of young New Zealanders.

This bill does some very important things to improve the lives of New Zealanders, many of whom are on low incomes, and many of whom are presently in substandard housing.

The principal that sits behind this bill is a pretty simple one: that no New Zealand adult or child should have to live in a house that makes them or their children sick. It is that simple. Every Kiwi kid deserves to grow up in a home that is warm, safe, and dry. As parents, and as a parent myself, I would not accept anything less for my own child.

This bill does a number of things.

It sets standards for private rental housing, and in fact, public rental housing too. Standards are set after 6 months of the bill coming into effect, and then new leases that are in existence 12 months after the legislation comes into effect will have to comply with the standards that have been promulgated.

Then, 5 years after the legislation comes into effect, every lease would have to comply.

The bill would require the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to set standards for heating and insulation.

The standards will have to describe what constitutes adequate methods of heating, adequate methods of insulation, adequate indoor temperatures, adequate ventilation, adequate draught-stopping and adequate drainage.

The regulations will have to describe suitable measures for each of those points.

The legislation will allow for exemptions to be provided for in the regulation.

I make those points to be very clear, because some of the objections that have been registered by the Government in the last 24 hours, or at least its Minister for Building and Housing, have misled New Zealanders about what in fact the bill does.

However, it is interesting to note the change in position that the Minister has taken. Two days ago, the Minister was concerned that the bill: “requires properties to be insulated at a pace that is totally unrealistic.” A day later, he said that the bill was slow in timing, and that “it has a timetable four years slower for insulating rental properties than the Government’s Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill.”

I am looking forward to the Minister’s contribution tonight because I would like to know what the third positon that bumbling Nick Smith is going to take on this particular bill.

When the Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills was making his submission on the Government’s legislation that merely requires rental housing to have the 1978 insulation standard complied within 4 years’ time, he said that right now 42,000 New Zealand children a year are going to hospital for respiratory infections, bronchial problems, asthma, and things associated with unhealthy homes—unhealthy homes that are unhealthy because of dampness and lack of ventilation that allows mould spores to proliferate.

That is the problem that we are trying to fix. It is a reasonable demand to have in the 21st century that New Zealanders in rental accommodation have a minimum standard that at least keeps them healthy.

The idea that we continue to allow 42,000 Kiwi kids to have to go to hospital for avoidable and preventable infections is just totally intolerable.

The Children’s Commissioner also said that up to 15 deaths of children a year are at least partly attributable to unhealthy homes—that is a disgrace. We can stop that, and tonight’s vote will be the first step towards doing just that.

Every rental property should be insulated, should be weathertight, and should have adequate heating. I do not think it is too much to ask.

I have had a lot of correspondence from a lot of New Zealanders in recent weeks and days. The mother of a child who has been repeatedly unwell because of the house that they live in wrote to me. Her name is Estelle, and she was living in Auckland at the time.

She told me in her email that her house had no insulation, it was damp. Mould was growing on her son’s toys. He got asthma and he had to go to hospital, and what she told me was that she carried the guilt of her unwell son with her until she was able to move out of that house.

She felt so guilty that she could not keep her child well. She is on a low income; she got the best house that she could afford, but it was an unhealthy home, and she should not be put in that position.

No parent in New Zealand should be made to feel guilty about the conditions in which they are often forced to accommodate their children, and no child in New Zealand should be in a position where they have to get sick like that.

This matters to all of us in New Zealand because we want to be part of communities that are strong and vibrant and where everybody gets a fair chance.

You see, when a child lives in a home that makes them constantly sick, that means they have to take days off school, that means that mum or dad might have to take time off work as well—that affects the household and it affects that child’s future.

And if we are serious about being a country that fulfils our commitment, and that basic Kiwi Dream that no matter the circumstances into which you are born, we will have a country, an education system, a health system, and housing that means that you can lift yourself up and be the best you can be throughout the rest of your life.

When young children live in houses that make them sick they are denied that opportunity. This is about fairness and justice and equality.

It is hardly surprising that we have ongoing problems with housing and accommodation in New Zealand when we see what is happening with houses and home affordability in New Zealand.

In the city of Auckland, the average price of an Auckland house is now nine times the average income.

We have the lowest home ownership in 64 years—that is a symptom of the fact that more and more people are dependent on rental accommodation.

This bill is about standing up for those New Zealanders.

This bill gives voice to New Zealanders, who have been suffering and struggling in silence for far too long, and this is about doing the right thing and the decent thing; it is about doing the Kiwi thing.

It is sad that the National Party, so far, has expressed its opposition to this bill, and my colleague Phil Twyford is going to go through some of those objections.

But it is interesting that the Commissioner for Children had this to say in relation to a Budget promise made a few years ago by this Government that undertook to make homes healthy again.

He said that the Government’s bill that was currently going through this Parliament failed to meet that promise.

He said that the Government made a promise to New Zealand children that we would make their houses healthy, and three years on from that Budget promise the Government’s bill will do little for children living in cold, damp, mouldy housing. It is a wasted opportunity, and a broken promise to our children.

I urge Government members to fulfil their promise, vote for this bill, and make a pleasant life, a safe and healthy life in rental homes in New Zealand a reality for the children of New Zealand and their parents. It is that easy for this house tonight to do that, and I urge the Government to support my bill.

Members’ Bills ballot

There was a Members’ Bill ballot today. The four drawn were:

  • Education (Restoration of Democracy to University Councils) Amendment Bill Hon David Cunliffe
  • Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill Dr Jian Yang
  • Electricity Transparency Bill David Shearer
  • Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) Andrew Little

There’s been issues raised with two of those Bills.

Graeme Edgeler has pointed out a flaw in the Name Change/Child Sex Offender Bill and the Speaker has ruled that the Healthy Homes Bill shouldn’t have been accepted due to similarity with a Bill that failed earlier this year and if it comes up for it’s first reading this year it will be rejected.

Under a law change proposed by National MP Jian Yang, every person convicted of robbery is deemed to be a “child sex offender”.

Edgeler backs up his claim with a link to the bill: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill [PDF 114k]

And to a law it refers to: Parole Act 2002

And a Speakers ruling on the Healthy Homes Bill:

The Speaker David Carter has delivered a ruling on Andrew Little’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2), and its similarity to a previous bill before the House.

The ruling is as follows: “Honourable members, the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) was drawn from the member’s ballot today. The bill has the purpose of ensuring that every rental home meets the minimum standards of heating and insulation. It requires the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to set the standards, and requires the landlords to meet them.

On further study, the purpose and effect of the bill are the same in substance as the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill which was defeated at its first reading on 18 March 2015. Standing Order 264 provides that a bill that is the same in substance as a bill that received or was defeated on its first, second, or third reading may not be proposed. In my opinion, this bill should never have been accepted for the ballot.

Now that the bill has been drawn, I need to find a way forward. The point at which a bill is proposed to the House is when the member in charge moves its first reading. If the first reading of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) is reached in the current calendar year, I will then rule the bill out of order.

However, if it is reached later than that, it will not trigger the prohibition in Standing Order 264, and will be in order. I have asked the Clerk to ensure that bills proposed to go in the ballot are scrutinised more carefully for compliance with Standing Order 264. In future, bills that are the same in substance as ones read or defeated in the same calendar year, will not be permitted into the ballot”.