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.

Extra rental standards to cost $7000 per house

Extra rental standards to cost $7000 per house

Papers obtained last week under the Official Information Act show that up to $7000 of extra spending may be required for each of the 588,700 rental properties in New Zealand and that this will have little benefit, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

Extra rental property standards on insulation, heating, ventilation, moisture protection, draught-proofing and drainage, under the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act, which were sent out for public consultation last month, are being finalised now.

Advice to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Phil Twyford, showed benefits only from insulation and draught-proofing, with heating, extractor fans, and moisture-proofing mainly incurring costs without benefits:

  • Insulation of up to 70,000 properties to 2001 standard of R1.9 in most of the North Island expected a benefit of $64 a year per property.
  • Heat pumps in living rooms achieving a temperature of 18C in 180,000 properties showed a cost of $33 a year. No benefit was cited.
  • Extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms incurred a cost of $48 per property. No benefit was shown.
  • A cost of $48 per property was cited for moisture-proofing and drainage work in 192,000 properties. No benefit was cited.
  • Draught-proofing tape around windows and doors was recommended with a claimed benefit of $49 per property if 30 percent of rental stock required it.

The total cost of around $7000 comprises insulation $2452 (an insulation top-up costs roughly the same as first-time insulation), a heat pump $3000, two extractor fans $1000, a ground moisture barrier $700, and draught-proofing (costs unclear).

A compliance deadline of sometime between July 1, 2019, and 2024 was recommended, as were exemplary damages of $4000 for non-compliance.

It will be over to rental property owners either to recoup the $7000 by adding around $14 a week to rent for 10 years, or pay for it without recouping it.

The Minister was warned that these costs would be added to rent for those owners who chose not to sell up. Grants to cover costs were recommended, according to the OIA release.

The Minister was advised that the biggest gain achieving 80 percent heat-loss reduction was insulating to the 1978 standard, which was R1.9. Anything over that had little extra gain.

It appears from the papers that the total number of uninsulated rental properties in New Zealand is unknown.

Looking past all the rhetoric in this debate, it appears that all that actually needs to be done, if reducing heat loss in winter is a worthy aim, is to find out what properties are uninsulated and take steps to remedy this, Mr Butler said.

An offer from the Government of free insulation subject to a visit by a Government official to confirm that the property is uninsulated could achieve that, Mr Butler said.

Advice to the Minister is that cold is an issue for the very young and the very old. Any health issues therefore could be addressed by a targeted approach ensuring that the vulnerable have and can afford adequate heating, he said.

A fixed heat pump is not the only way to lift the temperature to 18C or 20C. There is a range of options including wood-burners, flued gas heaters, and efficient portable electric heaters that we have been using for decades without difficulty, Mr Butler said.

If this extra $7000 of spending is imposed, much of which has been shown to have a cost without a benefit, in the current environment of strong demand for rental property, owners can charge extra so they most probably will, and this will go on top of current rent increases, Mr Butler said.

This is part of the Government’s policy of “making life better for renters” but the Minister may actually be making life more expensive for renters, he said.

The group Stop the War on Tenancies aims to empower both owners and tenants in the face of ongoing Government ineptitude with housing.

Owners not consulted directly on tenancy reforms

Owners not consulted directly on tenancy reforms

Why were the owners of New Zealand’s 588,700 rental properties not consulted on draconian proposals on tenancy law and extra housing standards when Tenancy Services holds the contact details of every owner who has lodged a bond, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today.

The submission period for proposed changes to tenancy law and extra standards for rental property ended yesterday.

Tenancy law proposals would prevent owners from ending tenancies contractually, ban fixed-term tenancies, give tenants the right to modify a property, allow tenants to keep pets as of right, and enable Government officials to enter boarding houses at any time.

Extra standards for rental property may require fixed heating in every room, additional insulation beyond current requirements, extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms, installation of polythene sheets under floors, and draught-stopping tape around windows and doors.

“The Government has the ability to notify owners directly but this time notification was limited to a few posts circulated around social media”, Mr Butler said.

“Is the office of Housing Minister Phil Twyford dysfunctional to the extent that contacting owners was never considered, or was the failure-to-notify a plot to minimise owner submissions and encourage feedback from tenants? he said.

Anyone who spent the several hours required to complete the online questionnaire about proposed tenancy reforms would see that the proposals would make an already biased-against-owners Residential Tenancies Act even more steeply biased against owners, Mr Butler said.

“Some questions were so poorly phrased that a rational response was not possible”, he said.

Anyone who completed the online questionnaire about the proposed extra standards would realise that the Housing Minister is trying to solve a problem that largely does not exist, Mr Butler said.

The questions skirt around the major issue, the elephant in the room, which is a shortage of affordable housing, both own-your-own and rental, he said.

The group Stop the War on Tenancies aims to empower both owners and tenants in the face of ongoing Government ineptitude with housing.