Working for better rental housing in New Zealand

This is a repost of a piece written for the magazine of the International Union of Tenants – a brief introduction to some of the problems of renting in New Zealand.

For the third of New Zealand households that rent, it can be difficult to find a warm, dry, secure and affordable rental home. Housing conditions are a chief concern. Many New Zealand homes are not built for its climate. Maximum winter temperatures in New Zealand are only 7°C in some parts of the country, rising to 15 °C towards the north. High humidity makes the air feel cooler than the thermometer indicates and contributes to dampness. Heating homes to an adequate temperature is expensive or impossible, as many rental homes do not have adequate insulation or effective heating systems. Daily indoor temperatures in New Zealand during the winter are on average two to four degrees lower than the minimum indoor temperature of 18°C recommended by the World Health Organization.[1]  Over a third of tenants report that their homes are often or always cold.[2] A survey of housing found that mold is present in three-quarters of rental homes.[3]

Tenants have a right to housing of a “reasonable” condition under the law – and tenants’ protection associations work to support tenants to improve their housing.[4] However, the difficulties associated with finding an affordable rental home means that many tenants do not assert their rights.[5] Tenants are often in insecure situations due to affordability pressures and tenancy law: private tenants stay in their home an average of just 15 months.[6] Landlords can end most leases with as little as 42 days notice.

The poor quality of New Zealand’s rental housing has important implications for health. Cold, damp and mold in homes is associated with asthma and respiratory symptoms and infections. In a survey of doctors in an emergency ward in winter, improving housing conditions would have reduced the risk of children’s admission in a third of the cases. [7] Last year, a coroner found that the cold living conditions of a state rental home contributed to the death of a child from complications associated with an illness similar to pneumonia.[8] In addition, and as a result of affordability pressures, many rental homes are crowded. This may contribute to New Zealand’s high rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and rheumatic fever, especially in the Maori and Pacific communities.[9]

Many groups, including public health advocates, Child Poverty Action Group and Wellington Renters United are calling for a “warrant of fitness” scheme which would ensure rental houses meet basic standards for heating, insulation, ventilation, safety, and hygiene.[10]

About 20% of New Zealand tenants pay below market rents in social housing, mainly provided by the state. Historically, state housing has provided better quality and security than the private rental sector. However, many New Zealanders are worried about current changes to how the state housing stock is managed. Recent legislation requires state tenants to leave their home if their incomes rise above a certain limit.[11] State tenants in some communities have been displaced through redevelopment schemes that have demolished homes in order to construct new, mixed-income communities.[12] Finally, some state housing is being sold or transferred to private organisations, and it is not clear that all of the housing will remain reserved for people of low income. The State Housing Action Network is mobilizing against this policy.[13]

Conditions in New Zealand’s rental housing sector are often poor, but a number of groups, including those representing state and private tenants, are working hard to ensure they improve.


[1] Wade, Amelia. 2012. “NZ kids suffering in cold homes”. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from:

[2] Statistics New Zealand. (2015). Perceptions of housing quality in 2014/5. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved from:

[3] Buckett, N R, M S Jones, and N J Marston. 2011. BRANZ 2010 House Condition Survey: Condition Comparison by Tenure. Wellington: Building Research Association New Zealand.

[4] Auckland Tenants Protection Association:

Christchurch Tenants Protection Association:

Manawatu Tenants Union:

[5] Howden-Chapman, Philippa, Kate Amore, Sarah Bierre, Elinor Chisholm, Anna Hamer-Adams, Jenny Ombler, and Kimberley O’Sullivan. 2015. “What Effect Will the 2015 Budget Have on Housing?” Policy Quarterly 11 (3): 13–19.

[6] Department of Building and Housing. (2004). Getting the balance right: Review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. Wellington: Department of Building and Housing. Retrieved from

[7] Kelly, A, G. Denning-Kemp, K. Geiringer, A. Abdulhamid, A. Albabtain, M. Beard, J. Brimble, et al. 2013. “Exposure to Harmful Housing Conditions Is Common in Children Admitted to Wellington Hospital.” New Zealand Medical Journal (December): 108–126.

[8] Shortland, H. B. (2015). Findings of Coroner H. B. Shortland: An inquiry into the death of Emma-Lita Pepe Quintanella Bourne. Whangerei.

[9] Baker, M, L Telfar-Barnard, A Kvalsvig, A Verrall, J Zhang, M Keall, N Wilson, T Wall, and P Howden-Chapman. 2012. “Increasing Incidence of Serious Infectious Diseases and Inequalities in New Zealand: A National Epidemiological Study.” The Lancet 379 (9821): 1112–1119.

[10] Bennett, Julie, Philippa Howden-Chapman, Elinor Chisholm, Michael Keall, and Michael Baker. In press. “Towards an Agreed Quality Standard for Rental Housing: Results from New Zealand’s First Warrant of Fitness Pre-Test.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Wellington Renters United:

Child Poverty Action Group:

[11] Housing New Zealand. (2013). Briefing for the incoming Minister of Housing. Wellington: Housing New Zealand. Retrieved from

[12] McDonald, A. (2014). Linking housing and health in the Hutt Valley: Housing coordinator pilot evaluation. Wellington: Regional Public Health. Retrieved from

[13] State Housing Action Network:



  1. Lee says:

    Almost the most important factor is that the shortage of rental accommodation puts tenants in the position of having to put up with shocking and shoddy conditions and practices because they are scared that if they say anything or make even the most reasonable requests they will be given notice, All that a landlord needs to say is that he/she wants to move into the accommodation or that a member of their immediate family wants to and that is that. The tenant has to go even if there is no issue with the tenant at all. The landlord holds ALL the power. At the very least it should have to be proven that the landlord or immediate family member DID in fact move in and if they didn’t then there should be a system where they are fined for unlawfully ending a tenancy.

  2. ellie0stone says:

    I’m writing an honours dissertation on the residential tenancies amendment bill and the healthy homes guarantee bill and whether either will fix the problem. Would love to hear your thoughts?

    1. Hi Ellie.

      I wrote down some thoughts on the RTA amendments here:

      plus these amendments are discussed here…

      Howden-Chapman, Philippa, Kate Amore, Sarah Bierre, Elinor Chisholm, Anna Hamer-Adams, Jenny Ombler, and Kimberley O’Sullivan. 2015. “What Effect Will the 2015 Budget Have on Housing?” Policy Quarterly 11 (3): 13–19.

      Chisholm, Elinor. 2015. “Government-Commissioned Report Makes Strong Case for Rental WOF (Blog Post).” Child Poverty Action Group, August 24.

      O’Sullivan, Kimberley, Lucy Telfar Barnard, and Helen Viggers. 2016. “Child and Youth Fuel Poverty : Assessing the Known and Unknown.” People, Place and Policy: 77–87. doi:10.3351/ppp.0010.0001.0006.

      I haven’t looked closely at the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill yet.

      It’s great you’re doing research on this – I’d love to read your dissertation when it’s done!

      Cheers, Elinor

  3. Lee says:

    The major problem is that our entire society has become unbalanced as a result (nearly completely) of the policies, actions and philosophy of the current government and in particular the current Prime Minister.
    The reason I say this is that the whole philosophy of this current government and Prime Minister is that the wealth will be held in the hands of the VERY few at the top of the financial tree.
    One of the bottom lines of this philosophy is the insane housing market. It means that rents (and mortgages of course) are exorbitant so that even though these Bills may be very worthy, there is no point in having, for example, a heat pump in every rental when the tenants are paying 75% of their income on rent and therefore will not be able to turn the heat pumps on.
    The whole housing disaster is just an example of a society in tatters. Where there is a tiny percentage who are extremely wealthy, a large working middle class who struggle from week to week and a very large lower class, both working and not, who are in poverty.
    Until the country’s wealth is re-distributed fairly and taxes are paid fairly (which will bring in MASSIVE dollars for Health, Education etc etc) the situation will simply get worse to the point where, in the not too distant future, our society and our country will simply grind to a halt. The uber-wealthy will find that their greed has ‘killed off’ everything and everyone, including themselves. I don’t know whether we would be able to even ‘start again’ as this current government has put us into unbelievable debt.

  4. Lee says:

    We need a law such as Sweden’s which says that rental properties MUST have ‘continuous heating’. There is a specified range of temperatures that the accommodation MUST ALWAYS have. This is perfect because it is one thing to have mandatory heat pumps installed but unless the property has been FULLY insuated and draught-proofed etc then to turn a heat pump on would be simply the same as air-conditioning while having doors and windows open. We need a law such as the one of Sweden’s which I mentioned above because then efficient forms of heating such as heat pumps WOULD actually work for people.

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