Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill – think of the children

The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) was introduced to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. Its purpose is to ensure rental homes in New Zealand meet minimum standards of heating and insulation. The Bill has been read a first time and now sits with the Select Committee. Public submissions to the Select Committee are now closed, and a report from the Committee is expected by 4 November 2016.

The Bill introduces minimum standards for heating and insulation for rental homes which landlords must comply with. These changes are motivated by the 40,000 children admitted to hospital with respiratory illnesses each year as a result of substandard housing. Children are particularly vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, and spend a greater proportion of their time than adults at home. Warmer homes could result in 50 fewer admissions per day, saving $54 million annually on public health expenditure. Substandard housing pose a greater risk to low-income families, as they are more likely to rent and spend a greater proportion of their time at home.

Minimum standards are not provided by the Bill, but the Bill suggests that they be prepared and published by MBIE. The Bill, however, does ask for the standards to describe what constitutes adequate methods of insulation and heating, and adequate indoor temperatures (amongst other things).

Mandatory indoor temperatures could significantly increase compliance requirements for landlords who may need to retrofit their rental homes with insulation in the roof, walls and underfloor. Landlords may even need to install heating devices such as heat pumps in order to provide ‘adequate methods of heating’. This could potentially create enough demand for builders to create dedicated teams which carry out such work retrofitting rental homes with insulation.

Proponents for the Bill argue that the Act only regulates insulation and smoke alarms, whereas the Bill would require landlords to provide adequate heating to homes.

It is not debated that warmer and healthier homes are desirable, especially for the sake of New Zealand children who have preventable respiratory illnesses. It is interesting to observe that this Bill, as a solution, has proposed to set mandatory indoor temperatures and heating methods for rental homes.

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