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Breathing Room

Juli Anne Tolley looks at the impending ventilation and draught stopping standard and explains what it means for both property owners and renters.

By: Juli Anne Tolley

1 June 2020

Ventilation in rental properties has been a controversial topic for years. A lack of ventilation tends to create an environment of moisture. This prevents the property from being able to “breathe” in a healthy manner and can lead to mildew and mould. With obligations for property owners and tenants unclear in the past, the question of whom was responsible for preventing and dealing with these effects led to vast differencesof opinion. Just search historical Tribunal rulings referencing ventilation - you will find pages of orders with various approaches to decisions on the responsibilities of both property owners and renters. Unfortunately, the ambiguity of the topic in the Residential Tenancies Act, Building Code, and other related Acts left a lot to interpretation.

Divide The Responsibility

With the Healthy Homes Standards now in place, we have some clarity on requirements and landlords’ responsibilities. The landlord is responsible for the tools to enable ventilation, ensuring that each habitable room has external windows or doors, and kitchens and bathrooms have extractor fans to the outside (not in the roof cavity). The person renting the property is responsible for using those tools to maintain moisture levels in the property, using the extractor fans and opening windows and doors to allow the house to breathe on a regular basis, which helps prevent mildew growth.

‘This division of responsibility achieves the balance of minimising damage and keeping costs down for both the property owner and the person renting’

This division of responsibility achieves the balance of minimising damage and keeping costs down for both the property owner and those renting. Yes, there are sticking points. Some properties may have special features that make compliance with these rules challenging - if not downright impossible. But at least we now have a basis from which to work and clarify where exemptions apply.

Fill The Gaps

A healthy home allows for “breathing” – this means it has circulation of air from outside and methods of extraction to eliminate moisture. However, we don’t want it breathing too much! Draughty houses are difficult to keep warm and cost a small fortune to run. It’s important for rental property owners to attend to the surrounding gaps of windows and doors and ensure there are no gaping holes where free-flowing air undermines comfort. This requirement in the Healthy Homes Standards was created to allow people who are renting to keep the heat in.

Make A Start

As of July 1, 2020, a statement of the condition of compliance with the Healthy Homes Standards is required to be included with any new or renewed tenancy agreement.

Failure to provide this can expose the property owner to the risk of a $500 fine. Although compliance with the standards is not required until July 1, 2021, I would encourage all rental property owners to begin now. This will prevent you from getting caught in a backlog with suppliers. Another incentive to make these changes sooner rather than later is the recent rise in the threshold of low-value asset write-offs. This was increased to $5,000 until March 17, 2021, at which point it will return to the $500 level.

Key facts - Healthy Homes Standards:

• July 1, 2020: statement of current compliance required with all new and required tenancy agreements.
• July 1, 2021: compliance with standards required for all new and renewed tenancies (within 90 days).
• July 1, 2024: all rental properties must comply with the standards.
• Property owners required to maintain all documentation and records as evidence of meeting the standards.
• Up to $4,000 exemplary damages for non-compliance with standards by prescribed dates.

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