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By Connie

I'm a Solicitor at CS Law

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Healthy Homes: Understanding the new tenancy law changes

New tenancy law changes recently came into force and they impose new responsibilities and rights on landlords and tenants.

These new regulations provided for by the Residential Tenancies (Smoke Alarms and Insulation) Regulations 2016 impose obligations on landlords to ensure that they install ceiling and underfloor insulation in their rental properties by 1 July 2019.

These regulations form part of the ‘Healthy Homes Standards’ and were signed off in May 2019 by the Government. These standards set minimum requirements for five main areas: heating, ventilation, insulation, moisture ingress and drainage and draught stopping. All private rentals must comply with these standards within 90 days of any change to a tenancy after 1 July 2021, and all must be compliant before 1 July 2024. The Regulations came in a response to calls that many rental homes did not adequately provide for its tenants.

From 1 July 2019, landlords must also include a separately signed statement of intent in their tenancy agreement. This statement confirms their intention to comply with these Health Home Standards.

Do these rules apply to all rental homes?

There are some exceptions to complying with these rules if it is not practical for a landlord to do so. In the case of ceiling insulation, if there is another habitable space immediately above the premises, or in the case of underfloor insulation, immediately below the premises, ceiling and/or underfloor insulation may not be required.

The Regulations also provide for other specific exemptions. For instance, if underfloor or ceiling access is such that installing insulation would cause either substantial building work or damage to the premises, a landlord would be exempted from these requirements. They would also be exempted if installing the insulation would create greater risks to the health or safety of the installer or it is not reasonably practicable.

These exceptions are strict, however, and a professional insulation or builder would need to confirm that an exception applies in a particular circumstance. This should then go into the tenancy agreement so that both the landlord and tenant know and acknowledge that this is the case.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

It is important that these requirements are understood and acted on where necessary. If a landlord does not comply with the above regulations, they face the risk of being taken to the Tenancy Tribunal and could be liable for a penalty of up to $4,000.

Already tenants have successfully taken its landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal under these new insulation laws.

In Gamman v Kaimai Real Estate Limited, the Tauranga property management firm was ordered to pay its tenants $1,500 in damages for failing to install the required insulation and therefore committing an unlawful act. The tenants were a family with two young children, one of whom had been hospitalised with a respiratory illness and suspected pneumonia. The tenants had first discussed the lack of insulation with the landlord, even offering to use her community services card as a way to reduce costs, but this was ignored.

Last month an Auckland landlord was also ordered to pay $2,700 to its tenants in what the Tribunal described as a case where he “chose to ignore his obligation until it was too late.”

In both of these cases, the Tribunal reiterated that there is a strong public interest in deterring landlords from ignoring their obligations and ensuring that the Regulations be complied with.

How can you protect yourself going forward?

These new regulations are also not only important for current landlords, but also prospective purchasers looking to buy a rental property. It would therefore be worthwhile taking the time to investigate the insulation of a particular property when completing your due diligence, so that you know what you are purchasing.

It is also worthwhile reading up on the regulations and health homes standards so that you are aware of and understand what your obligations are. If in doubt, it is worth consulting a professional insulation installer. While it may seem like a costly process ensuring that your property is up to scratch, the time taken now saves costs later on if you are non-compliant.