VIDEO: Tenancy changes for healthier homes

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A change to the Residential Tenancies Act was announced yesterday with new requirements made for insulation, smoke alarms and faster resolution of abandoned tenancies

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.

Building and housing minister, Dr Nick Smith, says 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.

“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,” Nick says.

He says 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.”

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will now 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.”

18,000 homes will need to be insulated along with 120,000 homes that will need to have smoke alarms installed.