Housing Minister Phil Twyford may lift the minimum health standards for rental properties, which could force landlords to shell out for adequate heating, insulation and ventilation. 

The minister wants feedback on a discussion document that aims to improve the quality of the country’s 600,000 rental properties that don’t meet the recommended standards. The regulations have to be in place by July 1 next year, and Twyford wants to know how long landlords should have to comply, and whether it should be through a single compliance date or a staggered introduction of the standards. 

“Improving heating, insulation, ventilation, drainage, and controlling moisture and draughts will go a long way to improving the quality of rental homes,” Twyford said in a statement. “These measures can also improve the energy efficiency of homes, and reduce the costs to maintain and keep them warm and dry, benefitting both tenants and landlords.”

The consultation, which closes on Oct. 22, comes a week after Twyford issued a separate paper on how to make life better for renters, which proposed dropping no-cause terminations, extending notice periods for ending periodic agreements to 90 days from 42 days, and limiting rent increases to once a year. 

Twyford today said many rentals are “cold, damp, and mouldy” and can trigger a number of illnesses that “affect people’s employment and economic opportunities because they have to take more sick days, and affect children’s educational outcomes because they are off school more”. 

New Zealand’s imbalance between supply and demand for housing has helped push house prices to record levels, especially in Auckland, where the shortfall was most acutely felt. Trade Me data last month showed Auckland and Wellington rents remained high through winter.

Prices for New Zealand rentals rose 2.5 percent in the June quarter from a year earlier, accelerating from a 2.1 percent pace in June 2017, and outpacing the 1.5 percent increase in consumer prices, Statistics New Zealand figures show. At the same time, the price for new housing rose 3.9 percent, slowing from an annual increase of 6.4 percent in June 2017.

Among the considerations in the healthy homes consultation, Twyford wants feedback on whether landlords should have to provide heating beyond the requirement that every living room be fitted with a fireplace and chimney or other approved form of heating, and what temperature those devices can deliver. 

The paper also seeks feedback on whether existing regulations for landlords to have ceiling and underfloor insulation by July 2019 was adequate, or if a higher level is needed. It also wants submissions on appropriate ventilation, where there was adequate protection against moisture entering the home, and what was an appropriate level of draught stopping. 

The paper estimates landlords could have to pay $3,000-to-$3,500 for fixed heating devices, $30-$50 for portable plug-in heaters, $1,665 for an average insulation top-up, $211-$311 for a fan, and $800 for a ground moisture barrier. That could amount to around $6,326 for a rental that needs a lot of work, or 0.9 percent of the August national average property value, according to Quotable Value. 

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