Mold and water – some tenants are still fighting for a healthy home
Tenants are complaining to Fair Go that some landlords are failing to meet their obligations to ensure homes meet Healthy Homes standards.
Both parties have obligations, but healthy housing advocates say there is still a power imbalance.
Jo Wills, who works for Sustainability Options, says “landlords know that if a complaint is made they can evict the tenant and there will be another tenant lined up without the house being upgraded.”
She adds that they have many examples of tenants being evicted for complaining. It’s a violation of the Residential Tenancies Act, but they have direct experience that it always happens.
Wills acknowledges that most landlords take their responsibilities seriously, but says there are a few who own multiple properties that continue to cause problems in the Bay of Plenty area where she works.
It was hoped that the organisation’s efforts to improve housing standards would be easier now that all rental properties involving new or renewed rentals are legally required to comply with Healthy Homes standards.
“We now thought we would be weeding out the bad ones, but the property manager or landlord can just say the property has met the standards whether it has or not.”
Ideally, Sustainability Options would like to see enforcement of the standards, or at least effective auditing so that those who do not comply can be encouraged to do so.
The idea is in line with the Green Party’s call for a fitness hire mandate.
MP Chloe Swarbrick says the current approach is insufficient.
“It’s effectively voluntary. It’s because the government doesn’t collect data on exclusions and doesn’t know how many properties qualify.”
In a statement, Housing MP Megan Woods told Fair Go the cost of the app was too high and did not justify the increased level of compliance that would follow.
Swarbrick pushed back on that, saying “when we talk about the costs, let’s also talk about the benefits – it will mean more people will be able to live in healthy homes. Even if we look at it from a right-wing perspective, that means we can see more productivity in the economy.”
The Healthy Homes standards include six areas of certification – insulation, moisture barriers, drafts, drainage, heating and ventilation.
An appraisal must be done on each property for certification.
Wills says they are the absolute minimum required, and ideally they would like to see them extended to include heating in additional parts of the house (at the moment this is only a requirement in the main living area) and the provision of curtains .
She feels that this is a “race to the bottom” right now. Some owners do not comply and some do the minimum to pass the standards. She would like to see more landlords who recognize that in addition to having an investment, they have a responsibility to provide a home that allows tenants to live healthy lives in a secure environment.