Rental reform package: Crackdown on property managers, Healthy Homes extension

  • 22/11/2022
Megan Woods revealed the package on Tuesday.
Megan Woods revealed the package on Tuesday. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Government will regulate property managers, consult on an acceptable maximum level of meth residue, and extend the deadline for Healthy Homes standards as part of a new package of rental reform.

Nearly a third of households live in rental accommodation, with 42 percent of those looked after by property managers. While property managers are members of an industry association with competency standards, the sector isn't regulated. The Government said this can lead to inconsistent quality of services. 

It's proposed property managers be required to be registered, trained and licensed and also be subject to a new framework for disciplinary matters. The Real Estate Authority will be the regulator and the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal will address property manager-related complaints. 

Key features of the regulatory system include that licensed property managers appear on a public register, follow a code of conduct, and meet entry requirements like being at least 18 years old. 

"Sometimes tenants are vulnerable to poor behaviour from residential property managers, especially in a tight rental market," Housing Minister Megan Woods said.

"Following our moves to give tenants more protection through the Residential Tenancies Act, we made a manifesto commitment in 2020 to regulate residential property managers.

"This means that like many other professions such as real estate agents, builders and lawyers, they will have conduct and competency standards to abide by and if they don't, they can be held to account."

Consultation has already happened on the proposals and it's expected a Bill will be introduced into the House by May 2023.

The Government has also announced it will consult the public on what "an acceptable maximum level of methamphetamine residue is" for properties as well as at what level those houses need to be decontaminated to, and when tenancies would need to be terminated.

"Currently there are two levels used - neither of which are legally binding – which create uncertainty for landlords and tenants," said Woods. "We have proposals that are informed by science, on screening, testing, and decontamination, with clear obligations for landlords."

She described the issue as being a "dog's breakfast" under the previous National Government with many tenants being booted from their homes due to a lower threshold for meth residue. 

"While the witch hunt on public housing tenants stopped under this Government and the former Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman’s 2018 report resulted in a more scientific approach to residue dangers, it’s time to settle the rules once and for all," Woods said.

"In the proposals, a maximum acceptable level of surface methamphetamine residue is proposed to be set at 15 micrograms per 100 square centimetres, which is also the level which a property needs to be decontaminated back to, or below."

She said this is consistent with the findings of Sir Peter's report and advice from ESR.

"The sector needs certainty on what level of methamphetamine residue requires decontamination, so making regulations to clarify this is a priority," Woods said.

"Once relevant regulations are in place, landlords will not be able to knowingly rent out premises that are contaminated above the prescribed levels (as set out in the regulations), without decontaminating in accordance with the regulations. They will be liable for a financial penalty of up to $4,000 if they do so."

The Government's also confirmed it is extending the deadlines for landlords and Kāinga Ora to comply with the Healthy Homes Standards. This creates minimum standards for heating, insulation, ventilation, draught stopping, moisture ingress and drainage in rentals.

"The change means private landlords have one more year to comply, so all private rentals must comply by 1 July 2025, instead of 1 July 2024," the minister said.

"For Kāinga Ora and Community Housing Providers, the timeframe for compliance shifts from 1 July 2023 to a new date of 1 July 2024."

From July 2021, landlords who had new or renewed tenancies were required to make sure the rentals met the standards within 90 days. This is now being extended to 120 days.

Woods said the deadline extension is necessary due to COVID-19 causing supply chain and delivery disruptions as well as limited workforce challenges. 

She said a survey in 2021 found 85 percent of private rentals met the standards or had work underway to meet them.

Currently, about 68 percent of Kāinga Ora homes meet the standards and an additional 16.4 percent have work underway. 

"Currently Kāinga Ora are bringing around 600 homes a week up to the new standard, as part of a wider programme that is making the biggest improvement to the quality of public housing in a generation," the minister said.

"Pragmatically delaying the timeframes for compliance will ease pressure on landlords, however we do expect Kāinga Ora to aim to have as many properties as possible to be compliant by the original deadline of July next year. Projections indicate they could achieve around 95 percent compliance by the original date."