Support warmer, safer homes for vulnerable people

January 16, 2016

Support warmer, safer homes for vulnerable people

You may have heard something last year about the Government’s plan to make insulation compulsory in rental homes – we think it’s a good plan, but the detail needs a bit of work.

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill is now with a select committee, which means politicians are looking at the detail of the proposed law and seeking public feedback before it goes back to Parliament.

We’ve only got until January 27 to give them feedback, so we thought we’d make it a little easier on you. We’ve explained the important parts of the bill and outlined what we think needs to change below – we think it’s important to do this right first time.

We’ve worked with ActionStation to build an easy submission form – just copy and paste the stuff you agree with, fill in your details and press submit. If you’re fired up about it, share it on Facebook and Twitter and encourage others to do the same.

What does the bill propose?

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill would make insulation compulsory in most rental homes. Landlords would have three years to bring the homes they rent out up to scratch, which would cost about $3000 per 100sqm and if done properly be good for 25 years. We think that’s a small investment for the impact it would have on the health and well-being of the families that live in those homes. The bill also requires smoke alarms to be installed, which will also make homes safer.

What's good about the bill?

It’s a great start toward improving the quality of rental properties, and boosting the health of people living in them, including children and older people. There is a proven link between poor quality housing and poor health – this is a step towards preventing some of the respiratory illnesses caused by New Zealand’s notoriously cold, damp homes. Warm, dry homes are also easier for landlords to maintain.

What needs to be changed in the bill for it to be effective?

The insulation standard proposed in the bill isn’t good enough. If rental homes already have some insulation, and it meets building code standards set in 1978, the insulation will get a tick of approval. We think all insulation should be required to meet the standards in in today’s building code (70mm thickness compared to 180mm thickness).

The bill is light on health and safety standards. About 180,000 properties will need to be insulated in the three years after the bill is made law – but there is little detail about how this process will be regulated to ensure the safety of both the installers and the tenants in the homes. If it’s overlooked, we may see a rash of injuries and deaths from untrained installers, the use of unsafe products, as well as house fires as a result of insulation being put in around downlights unsafely. Without proper regulation, corners will be cut and lives may be lost. We want to see a robust mechanism to ensure tenants are safe, houses are properly insulated to all current codes and standards, and installers’ lives are not put at risk.

The underfloor insulation material proposed is dangerous. The bill suggests underfloor foil be allowed, but foil use was scrapped by EECA insulation programmes in 2007  following a Coroner's inquest on three deaths which occurred during DIY installation, and Australia followed suit after four deaths in 2009 and 2010. We think all old foil should be replaced with bulk insulation and no new foil allowed.

The bill puts the onus on the tenant to check for compliance. There is a small penalty for landlords who don’t meet the standards – $3000 – but there is no detail in the bill about who is going to check whether or not it’s been done. In practice, it could be the tenant themselves who checks it and if it’s lacking, needs to persuade the landlord to upgrade. We think that’s unfair and unrealistic, so we want to see penalties in the bill increased dramatically and an independent monitoring system put in place.

Insulation is a start, but we could do more. A fixed efficient heating source, extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom, and a ground vapour barrier to limit rising damp would make homes even warmer and drier so we’d like to see those requirements included in the bill. We think a rental housing WoF (warrant of fitness) would be the best solution to ensure healthy safe homes for all tenants. Our most vulnerable families live in rental accommodation and a WoF that ensures the house is safe, warm, and dry should be the highest priority. If vehicles need to be certified as safe and fit-for-purpose, rental properties should be too. Click through to ActionStation to make a submission asking the select committee to get this bill right first time - the deadline is January 27.





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