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Headaches aplenty over healthy homes

There must surely be an easier and more practical way to implement minimum standards for housing, argues David Faulkner.

By: David Faulkner

30 April 2023

Having worked in property management for nearly two decades, I can assure you there has never been a dull moment.

One of the most challenging aspects we deal with is Healthy Homes. Firstly, we do need minimum standards. Every tenant deserves a warm, dry and safe environment.

However, with Healthy Homes we have created a bureaucratically confusing set of standards with moving goalposts, criteria and dates. The heating calculator, for example, has seen landlords waste thousands of dollars on top-up heat pumps that were not required and will probably never be used. The government had to move dates around when it became clear they would fail to meet their own standards.

When I started in the industry a Tenancy Agreement was two pages long. It is now a 25-page document, including a 16-page Healthy Homes compliance statement. Our population comprises a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, and English is often not the first language. Are we better off simplifying the current complex document? Do tenants understand what they are signing and agreeing to?

Landlords must provide proof of compliance with evidence along with a compliance statement. Similar to the methamphetamine debacle, a new industry has evolved in undertaking Healthy Homes inspections.

INCREASED WORKLOAD

Anyone can carry out these inspections without training, and issues around compliance are often open to translation. The roll-out of standards has been a bureaucratic nightmare creating confusion, frustration, and an increased workload for our industry. I am fine with the increased workload to ensure that homes are warm and safe, but the standards focus on five individual criteria rather than the outcome of whether the property is fit for purpose.

The Healthy Homes standards failed at its first attempt to get through parliament. Its second attempt passed through the House of Representatives as it got through its first reading when National was in power because coalition partners, the Māori Party and United Future, crossed the floor and voted to support the Labour-backed bill.

In 2017, Labour fast-tracked the bill, and it became law, with the first standards coming into effect on July 1, 2019. The first compliance deadline for new and renewed tenancies was July 1, 2021. Since then we have seen issues with the heating calculator as some new builds were failing heating standards due to errors in calculating the R-value of some of the materials being used for construction. And we have seen adjustments in insulation settings and changes in dates and time frames.

WARRANT OF FITNESS

Even prominent Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick believes Healthy Homes is failing to deliver. I found myself nodding in agreement with her when I attended a recent conference as she said it should be scrapped and replaced with a rental warrant of fitness programme. Swarbrick rightly points out that the government has no idea how many homes are registered as Healthy Homes compliant, how many companies hold themselves out to be capable of issuing Healthy Homes compliance certification, and whether they are trained and qualified.

Likewise, there is nothing stopping landlords from issuing their own certificates. About 50 per cent of all rentals are managed by owners, and there is no way of accurately assessing the level of compliance across New Zealand.

For the level of work that Healthy Homes has created versus the outcomes obtained, it has failed to deliver.

I think NZ should move to a Europe and UK-based Energy Performance Certification (EPC), showing the energy efficiency and emissions of the property by using a grading system similar to that used for household appliances and vehicles.

Properties must be assessed every five years, and if a property is below a certain threshold it can only be tenanted once improvements are made and reassessed. This focuses on outcomes rather than individual criteria that are open to interpretation and have become a bureaucratic nightmare to manage.

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