Hundreds of breaches of Healthy Homes Standards in rentals checked by Government

A Government investigations team has identified hundreds of breaches of healthy home standards in rental properties over the past year. 

Those breaches are "absolutely not" acceptable, says Greens spokesperson for renters Chlöe Swarbrick, who wants rentals to be subject to a warrant of fitness.

The Healthy Homes Standards, which became law in 2019, include minimum requirements for heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture ingress and drainage, and draught stopping in rental properties.

Different types of properties have different timeframes for when they have to comply with the standards. For example, private landlords must ensure their properties are up to scratch within 120 days of any new or renewed tenancies. By July 1, 2025, all private rental properties must comply.

Between May 30, 2022 and May 29, 2023, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Tenancy and Compliance Investigations team undertook 921 Healthy Homes Standards compliance checks.

The data, obtained by the Greens through Written Parliamentary Questions, shows 296 of the checks were the result of complaints and 625 were proactive investigations.

Breaches were found in 395 cases, but there can be multiple breaches found in one case. Between June last year and May 20 this year, there were 485 identified breaches.

Swarbrick said the large number of breaches "is demonstrative of just how deeply profound the issue is with renting in this country". 

The Green Party has been highlighting some renters' experiences to show how "dire" the situation is in New Zealand. They include stories of people living with mould that landlords won't address and having trouble getting their landlord to fulfil the Healthy Homes Standards.

Swarbrick said the burden is currently on tenants to speak up if their rental isn't up to scratch.

"We have a situation where the Healthy Home Standards, basically kind of become, in practice, voluntary and it's incumbent on tenants or renters to enforce their own rights, their rights to a have an adequate and healthy home through going to the Tenancy Tribunal which continues to entrench the power imbalance that we're seeing in this country."

The Greens have previously proposed a warrant of fitness for rental homes, which Swarbrick said would "reverse the burden".

What this would mean is that a house is checked and guaranteed to be up to the standards.

"A WoF for rental homes would cover Healthy Homes Standards for heating, insulation, and ventilation as well as other basic features all homes should have, like safe electrical wiring, smoke alarms, and secure locks on doors and windows," Swarbrick said when she called for a warrant in 2021.

"Too often homes are rented out – at extreme cost – without these basic necessities."

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick.
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo credit: Newshub.

Associate Housing Minister Barbara Edmonds noted to Newshub on Wednesday that there were no standards at all before the Labour Government introduced them.

She also highlighted the $16 million allocated in Budget 2021 to proactive investigations and enforcement of the Healthy Homes Standards. 

Asked if the scheme was essentially voluntary because compliance isn't checked in every rental, Edmonds said: "Every landlord has to comply with the Healthy Home Standards by 1 July 2025".

"We've supported that through the enforcement and compliance activities that the Government is currently doing, even though the standards are not until 2025," she said. 

"I believe that what we need to do is embed those changes and see how they go first."

Landlords who don't fulfil the requirements can face penalties. Edmonds said she understood enforcement action had been taken against landlords, but wasn't sure of the exact number.

Under questioning from Swarbrick in the House on Wednesday afternoon, Edmonds said the Government had commissioned a survey in November last year that found 92 percent of landlords either fully met the standards or had done things to prepare their property. 

But Swarbrick asked if the minister thought that "information from voluntary surveys is adequate to make evidence-based policy".

"I think it is one aspect of ensuring that we have compliance with the Healthy Home Standards," Edmonds replied. 

The associate minister said the Government believes every New Zealander should have a safe, dry and warm home. 

"There is a responsibility on everybody to ensure that there is compliance with the Healthy Home standards."

The Healthy Homes Standards requirements also apply to houses rented by Kāinga Ora and registered by Community Housing Providers, as well as boarding homes. They have their own timeframes.

Edmonds said that as of May 31, 97 percent of eligible Kāinga Ora homes either met the requirements or had work in progress to meet them.

Dan Herlihy, Acting National Manager Compliance and Investigation at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said it wasn't acceptable for tenants to live in a house not capable of being warm, dry and safe. 

"Landlords are responsible for maintaining and improving the quality of their rental properties to ensure they meet the healthy homes standards. It is important to note that not all rental properties would have reached their compliance date for the HHS.   

"If tenants are concerned the premises does not meet the healthy home standards, they should discuss this with their landlord in the first instance. Landlords can and should explain to their tenants how the property meets the Standards."

If tenants are still not satisfied, they can request documents relating to the standards from the landlord, he said.

"Tenants can also issue the landlords with a notice to remedy. If the landlord is still failing to meet their obligations under the healthy homes standards, then the tenants can and should consider making an application to the Tenancy Tribunal seeking a work order requiring the landlord to carry out the work, compensation for the landlord failing to meet their obligations, and exemplary damages for the landlords failing to meet these obligations."

Herlihy said the investigations team was keen to hear from tenants in vulnerable situations or where there may have been serious, systemic breaches by a landlord.

A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesperson said the Government decided not to introduce a warrant of fitness for rentals in favour of the Healthy Homes Standards. 

"The benefits of regulatory compliance that could be achieved through WOF inspection requirements are outweighed by the additional regulatory costs. Moving to a WOF scheme would be a significant undertaking with significant costs and impacts."  

The Government last year extended the deadlines for landlords and Kāinga Ora to comply with the Healthy Homes Standards.

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