The standard of New Zealand rental homes – and particularly insulation – has been in the media spotlight again recently.
And as we head into winter it’s worth spelling out both the pitfalls of an under-insulated home and the legislation designed to keep the nearly 50% of Kiwis healthy and warm in rented homes.
A survey by BRANZ, the Building Research Association, has shown that the quality of rented homes has improved in the past five years but still 32% are poorly maintained, 18% feel a little damp, 10% damp in places, and 3% quite damp or damp throughout. And it’s this dampness and cold conditions that combine to create health problems for those living in sub-standard homes.
So while politicians debate the pros and cons of creating a Warrant of Fitness-style system for rental accommodation, there are still plenty of laws designed to help landlords provide high-quality homes.
- The Residential Tenancies Act requires that properties must be let in a reasonable state of cleanliness and repair and the Housing Improvement Regulations (1947) require properties to have adequate ventilation and be free from dampness.
- Since July 1, 2016, all rented homes where tenants receive an Income Related Rent Subsidy, such as those provided by Community Housing Providers or Housing New Zealand, must meet minimum insulation requirements.
- From July last year it has also been compulsory to have insulation statements on all tenancy agreements signed since 1 July 2016. The landlord must disclose whether there is insulation in the rental home, where it is, what type and what condition it is in, so tenants can make an informed decision.
- From July 1, 2019, it will be compulsory to have ceiling and underfloor insulation in all other rented homes covered by the RTA where it is reasonably practicable to install. It must comply with the regulations and be safely installed.
- When completing an insulation statement, if a current HNZ landlord can’t say that the property is adequately insulated, they must explain how they intend to comply with insulation requirements by the 90th day after the start of the tenancy, or explain the circumstances giving rise to the exception. Failing to comply could mean the landlord is liable for a fine. In the case of private landlords whose properties currently fail to meet insulation standards, they must sign the insulation statement detailing the status of their property's insulation and ensure the standards are met by July 1, 2019, or be liable for a fine.
- The insulation regulations apply to any residential rental covered by the Residential Tenancies Act including rental homes and boarding houses. They will apply to sleep-outs depending on the design.
- A landlord has the right to enter a rental home to comply with insulation requirements after 24 hours’ notice, and between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm.
- The installation or repair of electrically-conductive insulation, known as foil insulation, is banned in all residences including rental homes. Anyone who breaches the ban commits an offence and may be liable to a penalty.
What’s important for landlords is to know exactly what sort of insulation their home has and what state it is in – it’s not enough to assume that ceiling and underfloor insulation is already well-fitted, installed and performing to the best of its abilities.
For homes insulated before July 1, 2016, the minimum ratings for insulation are R1.5 for ceilings and R0.9 underfloor for masonry buildings, and R1.9 for ceilings and R0.9 underfloor in timber-framed homes. For homes insulated since that date, the minimum ratings are based on geographic areas with R2.9 for ceilings and R1.3 underfloor throughout the North Island (except for an area in the central NI), and R3.3 for ceilings and R1.3 underfloor throughout the South Island.
Most common types of older insulation would have been at least 100mm thick when new, however some settlement or compression can be expected for older insulation. In general, all areas of ceiling insulation should have a thickness greater than 70 mm above all accessible habitable spaces.
If the insulation sits below the roof framing, this means it has settled, and will continue to settle over time to the point where it will no longer meet the requirements of ceiling insulation under the Regulations. Areas of older ceiling insulation that are less than 70 mm thick require upgrading in accordance with the retrofit requirements.
After July 1, 2019, for all rental homes, any damaged insulation - including rips, tears, excessive settlement or compression, vermin nests or entrance holes patches of mould or other contamination – will need to be replaced, and there must not be visible gaps between the insulation and the edge of the framing or between pieces of insulation.
It is important that insulation stays dry so that it remains effective. Roof leaks and dampness in subfloors need to be fixed before insulation is installed. Extraction fans in bathrooms and kitchens (including rangehoods) should be vented to the outside of the house – they should not vent into the roof space to prevent moisture build up within the roof cavity and contamination of the surrounding insulation. Where the soil of the subfloor is damp (it sticks to your fingers if you press on it) or wet, first check that there are no leaks from plumbing, that gutters and downpipes are clear and in good working order, and that there is adequate drainage and subfloor ventilation.
Throughout the Government advice around well-insulated, healthy homes, it’s stressed that landlords should get rigorous advice from reputable installers and insulation experts in order to know their buildings comply. Harrisons Energy is the ideal company to contact as our nationwide coverage of franchises means you will talk to someone who understands regional requirements as well as the new legislation requirements.