The new, old act.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

In 1947, the New Zealand Government released legislation that focused explicitly on the quality of rental properties and living standards. Until recently, most of the operators in the industry were not aware that this act even existed.

Ironically, 72 years later, we are looking down the barrel of a new version of the same legislation. Only, with a more contemporary twist. We have gone from the Housing Improvement Regulation 1947 to the Healthy Homes Standards 2019.

There is an uncanny, and to a degree, concerning similarity between the two acts, and part 1 of the 1947 addition covers' Minimum Standards of Fitness for Houses'. The original legislation is relatively primitive compared to the complex heating requirements detailed within the Healthy Homes Standards 2019, but the intent is the same. Healthy, warm, safe homes for tenants.

Why has this become relevant again in 2021? As we get closer to the deadline for Healthy Homes Standards, more and more owners (as they are entitled to do) are delaying completing any of the required work to meet the HHS while they have an existing tenant in the property.

However, the issue they are now confronted with is; adjudicators in the Tenancy Tribunal are referencing the Housing Improvement Regulation 1947 to enforce owners to provide minimum standards for their current tenants. For example, to quote Section 6 of the Housing Improvement Regulation 1947; Every living room shall be fitted with a fireplace and chimney or other approved form of heating.

In 2021, if you have an existing tenant and your property has no heating source in the living room, then you will find that an order will be made to provide a heating source. Even if the Healthy Homes Standards says you have until July 2024, if you have an existing tenant. As so many of us are now discovering, you'd be naïve in thinking that a tenant should be able to source and plug in a heater if the living area has no heating source.

The 1947 Act has many similarities with the HHS 2019, and it does not end with just the heating; the 1947 Act also clarifies minimum standards for ventilation in the bathrooms and bedrooms, ground moisture, gutters and drainage. It even references mould and moisture. The list goes on. When you wrap modern-day words around the old legislation, it is more or less the same.

It raises several important questions – if we are confronted with the same issues again 72 years later, why will the result be different from 1947?

Is it wise to continue to enforce landlords to overhaul properties and spend money on addressing areas that have always been there? With all the modern-day technology and innovative building materials, if the same issues still exist, are we focusing our energy on the right area?

If you asked an industry expert whether a house that meets the five areas of the HHS is any less likely to impact health negatively, the answer is no. As part of improving living standards, we must also educate people about healthy living habits and how to heat or ventilate a house. Otherwise, in 72 years, we will be back in the same position.

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