Will the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill improve our rental housing?

The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill no.2 amends the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). Introduced by the Labour Party back in 2015, it is currently being considered by the Government Administration Select Committee. Over the next couple of months, this Bill is likely to be in the news again as the select committee hears oral submissions.

This Bill is not to be confused with amendments to the RTA introduced by the Government last year. As a result of these amendments, from mid-2016, smoke alarms became mandatory for private rentals, and landlords were required to disclose the extent of insulation to tenants – in mid-2019, insulation will be mandatory, too. These are good things. However, as I wrote at the time, there were a number of problems with the amendments: low insulation levels, no safety standards, and the absence of an effective means of enforcement 1. Much of the debate of at the first reading of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill was about which set of amendments – those already introduced by the Government or those under consideration – would do a better and quicker job at ensuring tenants live in healthy homes.

In a submission on the Bill I prepared with my colleagues at He Kainga Oranga (available here), we welcomed renewed attention to housing quality, and particularly (in contrast to the previous amendments) the issue of heating provision. However there is also room for improvement. Some of the changes we suggested are outlined below:2

  • The Bill does not set standards for rental homes, but rather empowers the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation (MBIE) to set standards regarding methods of heating and insulation, indoor temperatures, ventilation, draught stopping and drainage. (Currently, some of these standards are set out under the Housing Improvement Regulations, which are part of the RTA.) The Bill doesn’t give any particular guidance on what these new standards should be. The Bill should guide MBIE to base standards on the latest science towards maximising health gains.
  • Echoing the changes introduced under the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2016, this Bill does not address many safety issues in rental housing. New Zealand studies show that simple measure such as hand rails on stairs prevent injury and are extremely cost-effective.3–5 As I wrote on this blog, MBIE commissioned a cost benefit analysis of a rental housing standard which found that measures to reduce hazards in the home would save $456.5 million in ACC and other medical costs over twenty years.6 The Bill should be amended to include safety standards.
  • In its current form, the Bill requires MBIE to set standards for adequate indoor temperatures. In view of the fact that minimum indoor temperatures have been established by the World Health Organization 7,8 and that a minimum indoor temperature for housing is difficult to monitor and enforce in the kinds of housing typical in New Zealand’s rental sector, MBIE’s standards could rather consider the overall thermal efficiency of a dwelling, aiming to ensure that it is possible and affordable to heat the dwelling to a healthy minimum indoor temperature.
  • The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill has similar problems as the 2016 amendments when it comes to enforcement. The new standards will be enforced in the way standards are currently enforced: if landlords do not comply with the law, tenants can follow up by reporting the issue to Tenancy Services. But research shows that legislation like this doesn’t always protect tenants: New Zealand tenants in vulnerable housing situations often do not report housing quality problems to their landlord or to Tenancy Services 9. This is one of the reasons why, as I wrote on this blog, an MBIE-commissioned analysis found that around a third of landlords do not comply with standards under such enforcement regimes. Other enforcement regimes, such as an audit of a sample of properties or a universal inspection “WOF” approach, increase compliance to 80-90% 6.
  • Under the Bill as currently drafted, some dwellings won’t have to meet standards until 2023. The compliance period should be reduced.

It will be interesting to see whether these issues come up at Select Committee.

More information:

He Kainga Oranga. Submission on the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (no.2). 2016. http://www.healthyhousing.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Healthy-Homes-Guarantee-Bill-submission-HHRP-20-6-2016.pdf.

References

  1. He Kainga Oranga. Submission on the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill. 2016. http://www.parliament.nz/resource/en-nz/51SCSS_EVI_00DBHOH_BILL67990_1_A474304/e8679a83c97a9a0d823366142e3d6a0eca5d21d0.
  2. He Kainga Oranga. Submission on the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (no.2). 2016. http://www.healthyhousing.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Healthy-Homes-Guarantee-Bill-submission-HHRP-20-6-2016.pdf.
  3. Keall M, Pierse N, Howden-Chapman P, et al. Home modifications to reduce injuries from falls in the Home Injury Prevention Intervention (HIPI) study: A cluster-randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2015;385(9964):231-238. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61006-0.
  4. Keall MD, Pierse N, Howden-Chapman P, Guria J, Cunningham CW, Baker MG. Cost–benefit analysis of fall injuries prevented by a programme of home modifications: a cluster randomised controlled trial. Inj Prev. 2016:injuryprev-2015-041947. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2015-041947.
  5. Pega F, Kvizhinadze G, Blakely T, Atkinson J, Wilson N. Home safety assessment and modification to reduce injurious falls in community-dwelling older adults: cost-utility and equity analysis. Inj Prev. 2016. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2016-041999.
  6. Blick G, Davies P. Cost Benefit Analysis for a Minimum Standard for Rental Housing. Wellington: Sapere Research Group for the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation; 2014. http://www.mbie.govt.nz/what-we-do/housing/pdf-document-library/cost-benefit-analysis-minimum-standard-rental-housing-report-prepared-for-mbie.pdf.
  7. Ormandy D, Ezratty V. Health and thermal comfort: from WHO guidance to housing strategies. Energy Policy. 2012;49:116-121.
  8. World Health Organization. Health impact of low indoor temperatures. In: Environmental Health (WHO-EURO). World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe; 1987.
  9. Chisholm E, Howden-Chapman P, Fougere G. Renting in New Zealand: Perspectives from tenant advocates. Kōtuitui New Zeal J Soc Sci Online. 2017;12(2):1-16. doi:10.1080/1177083X.2016.1272471. Free access: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/3gTMYn9wVKwVyuMnthTm/full

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