Rental property child hospitalisation claim contradicted

Housing Minister Phil Twyford justified the launch of costly new rental property standards in February by saying “6000 children are admitted each year for ‘housing-sensitive hospitalisations’” but, when questioned, two Ministries provided contradictory data that undermined the Minister’s claim.

Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler sent a series of questions to the Minister’s office, to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and to the Ministry of Health, all seeking evidence to support a rather specific claim made by the Minister in February.

The full quote was that “6000 children are admitted each year for ‘housing-sensitive hospitalisations’, and that 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.”

Answers to questions asked under the Official Information Act revealed:

  1. The Ministry of Health does not list “housing-related hospitalisation” as a condition that people are hospitalised for, but does list it as “circumstances that may cause diseases (or exacerbate existing conditions)”.
  2. That category in a table titled Publicly funded hospital discharges 2015/16, at https://www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/health-statistics-and-data-sets/hospital-event-data-and-stats?page=2 showed that of the 244,152 discharges of children and young persons to age 19 that year there was a single entry recording a hospitalisation for a condition exacerbated by housing.
  3. MBIE said that the claim that “6000 children are admitted each year for ‘housing-sensitive hospitalisations’, and that 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” appears as an assertion on page 41 of A stocktake on New Zealand Housing, published last year. That assertion was made with no supporting data other than a footnote.
  4. That footnote, titled Risk of rehospitalisation and death for vulnerable New Zealand children, identified crowding as the housing factor and said that death was rare. (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28735258)

In Stocktake, there was another assertion about children and asthma on p43, and diseases resulting from crowding in p44, again without supporting data other than unhelpful footnotes. If that was the only support for the Minister’s claim, it would appear that his “we are doing it for the children” utterances were exaggerated.

The Minister has made various “hospitalisation” claims while pushing for so-called “healthy homes guarantee standards”.

During the first reading of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill on May 4, 2016, Mr Twyford said: “It is no longer good enough in this country of ours that there are 42,000—in fact, the latest figures indicate 50,000—preventable hospitalisations of children with respiratory and infectious diseases”.

The foreword of the Healthy Homes Standards discussion document, signed by the Minister, says that Ministry of Health data (2018) shows that there are “approximately 10,800 children or 13,000 events with potentially housing related conditions presented to the hospitals in New Zealand each year.”

The Healthy Homes Guarantee Act was passed in 2017. Standards had not been created when MPs considered the legislation. The standards would be created later, outside of parliamentary scrutiny, and were to be imposed as a regulation.

The standards that eventuated concerned heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture control and drafts, presumably to combat what the Minister thought was a prevalence of cold, damp housing.

These standards, of course, would have no effect on hospitalisations resulting from disease-transmission in crowded houses, respiratory diseases resulting from indoor smoking and unflued portable gas heaters, or infections resulting from poor hygiene.

This means that a fully compliant but crowded dwelling would continue to drive high rates of close-contact infectious diseases such as pneumonia, meningococcal disease and tuberculosis.

Insulation top-ups merely ensure that the costs of heating are marginally reduced, a fixed heater does not ensure that it is used, and ventilation would remove some steam from kitchens and bathroom, which could be achieved by opening a window.

The news that one Ministry contradicted data from another Ministry and undermined the  Minister’s emotional “for the children” claim, and that the rental property standards would have no effect on crowding-related diseases, will go down like a cup of cold sick for rental property owners forced to spend up to $7000 per dwelling on largely unnecessary modifications.

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy.

Tech firm: Test rental properties before spending on heating

Housing Minister Phil Twyford should heed a warning from tech firm Tether that if rental property owners don’t monitor the warmth and ventilation performance of their properties, they risk spending thousands of dollars on upgrades they don’t need, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

Kiwi tech start-up Tether – which designs and manufacturers monitoring systems like the EnviroQ to enable healthy living environments – says “diagnosis comes before remediation”.

Tether CEO Brandon Van Blerk said “you need to know what’s going on in the house first. How do you prove consistent temperature? How do you maintain temperature? What happens when the tenant says it’s colder than 18 degrees Celsius and it isn’t?” See http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1902/S00773/tech-company-urges-landlords-to-delay-buying-heat-pumps.htm?fbclid=IwAR13rhIwy4W58ijd3wtgobTOr9rvw-0SmrEuAN5TafQWp0hCPEf0fW2Mx4w

The Housing Minister has made a fundamental error by assuming all rental properties are damp, cold health risks when the evidence is that only 2.7 percent of tenants surveyed by BRANZ complained of cold and damp, Mr Butler said. Check p40 of the BRANZ report at

https://www.branz.co.nz/cms_show_download.php?id=606738ff7cb47451e094ad80f39cc912fa18f7a8

Based on that error, he has imposed heating, insulation, ventilation, draught-proofing and moisture-proofing on all rental properties that may cost $7000 per dwelling when it is largely not needed, he said.

The Minister has compounded that error by assuming that the 10,800 children hospitalised every year have been made sick by the poor quality of housing while not allowing for other factors present in the dwelling, such as smoking, drug abuse, poor hygiene, overcrowding, not to mention medical issues sick children may have inherited, Mr Butler said.

The 290,000 owners of rental property in New Zealand form a substantial voting bloc. They can see that the Minister is acting against the interests of both owners and tenants and will vote accordingly, he said.

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy.

Bad time for costly rental property standards

A housing shortage is the wrong time to whack rental property owners with thousands of dollars of additional compliance requirements, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

The new standards, announced today, will require rental properties to have a living room heater, insulation above the current requirement, extractor fans in bathrooms and rangehoods in kitchens, a ground moisture barrier to stop rising damp, adequate drainage, as well as draught-stopping tape.

The additional insulation requirement is the biggie and it looks like Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford has let the insulation industry write the rules, Mr Butler said.

Official advice to the Minister was that the optimum cost-benefit is to the 1978 standard of R 1.9 in ceilings, as currently required, and anything over that has diminishing benefit, he said.

Moreover, underfloor insulation reduces heat loss to such a small degree that it is wasted money, he said.

Yet the Minister has gone ahead and whacked rental property owners with the most extreme 2008 option of R 2.9 in ceilings, which means that all insulation will have to be redone, which must be a dream result for the insulation industry, Mr Butler said.

Today around the country there will be rental property owners who thought they were doing the right thing by installing insulation as required who now find out that they have to do it all over again, he said.

Claims by the Minister to justify his standards turned out to be wrong, Mr Butler said.

The World Health Organisation never recommended a minimum indoor temperature, as the discussion document claimed.

The Building Research Association of New Zealand found that only 2.7 percent of renters thought their dwelling was cold and damp, which is hardly a crisis, Mr Butler said. (See The proposed healthy homes regulations: an assessment http://www.tailrisk.co.nz/documentlist)

There is not a crisis in the condition of rental property. There is a crisis in the availability of rental property and Mr Twyford’s extra compliance requirements will make this worse, Mr Butler said.

“Owners have three options: Absorb the extra costs, raise rents, or sell. Ask any accountant. Owners are selling,” Mr Butler said. “Then where will renters live?”

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy.

What evidence-based ‘healthy home’ standards look like

Evidence-based rental property standards would require ceiling insulation to the 1978 standard, no subfloor insulation, and nothing more, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

Advice to the Government obtained under the Official Information Act (See http://tenancieswar.nz/healthy-homes-legislation/)  shows no support for the claim that heat pumps, extra insulation, extractor fans, draught-proofing, and moisture-proofing, which soon may be imposed under the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act, would keep 10,800 children out of hospital each year.

The World Health Organisation never recommended a minimum indoor temperature, as the discussion document claimed, and the Building Research Association of New Zealand found that only 2.7 percent of renters thought their dwelling was cold and damp, which is hardly a crisis, Mr Butler said. (See The proposed healthy homes regulations: an assessment http://www.tailrisk.co.nz/documentlist)

We already have standards for rental property and if Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford followed advice, the standards he would confirm under regulation would be thus:

  • Heating: A tenant should be able to use whatever he or she chooses to plug in so long as it is safe. Both fixed and portable heaters can deliver sufficient warmth. Last year, Housing New Zealand found that a number of tenants would not use 15,000 fixed heaters recently installed because they were not what they were used to. (see  http://tenancieswar.nz/2018/10/09/complaints-show-problem-with-heaters-in-rentals/?fbclid=IwAR3uFj9j1V95oRmjDl1Q_TbFpWNXJxXMfpFtJO1aWezlB-JxOxipfoG2PxE ) The high price of electricity is the greatest barrier to poor people turning on the heater, not the presence or absence of a heater. Wood-burners are useful for those who prefer a fire.
  • Insulation: Ceiling insulation to the 1978 standard of R1.9 for most of the North Island should be the standard because it has the greatest impact and anything over that has diminishing cost-effectiveness. Underfloor insulation is a waste of money because it hardly reduces heat loss. Owners forced to install it should be compensated.
  • Ventilation: Windows that may be opened is a basic standard of ventilation and have been required since 1947 under Home Improvement Regulations of that year. There is no solid evidence that mould is a serious issue in rental properties.
  • Draught-proofing: Residents will protect themselves from draughts when they need to and any serious issues may be remedied through discussion with the owner. Requiring draught-stopping tape in gaps greater than 3mm in 588,700 rental properties is absurd.
  • Moisture-proofing: No evidence has been offered to prove all rental properties suffer from rising damp. The evidence is that 2.7 percent are perceived as cold and damp. Dampness problems are remedied by discussion with the owner or through the Tenancy Tribunal.

The outrageous $4000 dob-in-your landlord incentive imposed by the previous government should be dropped, he said.

The attempt to blame housing-related hospitalisations of 10,800 children annually on the condition of 588,700 rental properties while ignoring 1.1 million owner-occupied properties and not accounting for overcrowding is deceitful, he said.

Up to $7000 of extra spending per property may be required if every rental property required a heat pump, extra insulation, extractor fans, as well as the suggested draught-proofing and moisture proofing and this would have little benefit, Mr Butler said. (See http://tenancieswar.nz/2018/11/)

The money for extra compliance can only come by way of a rent increase from the tenant who is in effect being forced into buying extra appliances and building material without necessarily wanting it, he said.

A more-effective way ahead should be driven by owners and tenants in which any issues with heating, insulation, ventilation, draught and moisture proofing could be sorted out by agreement, he said.

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy.

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