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18 Degrees Celsius. Putting The Heat On Landlords

  • Why the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill is going to be a game changer for landlords and tenants in New Zealand
  • Tens of thousands of rental properties may soon become non-compliant
This is my generation’s nuclear-free moment and I am determined that we will tackle it head on.
— Prime Minister Jacinda Arden talking about climate change

As winter approaches, few will dispute that the majority of rental properties in New Zealand are not up to standard. Thousands of tenants up and down the country live in cold, damp properties that makes a mockery of our global clean green image.

Late last year a bill was passed through Parliament that will literally change the face the housing in New Zealand forever, yet many people are unaware as to the true impact of this legislation and the cost of compliance.

The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill became law in December 2017 and many landlords are utterly oblivious as to the impact of this bill. The Labour backed bill passed through Parliament at the second attempt late last year due to the fact that it had support from the previous National Government coalition partners the Maori Party and from United Futures. Because of this, it passed through the first reading by one vote.

This bill is in our opinion, the single biggest piece of legislation for tenancy law since the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act back in 1986. It is simply going to change the face of renting forever.

Along with Labour stating that they are going to build 100,000 new houses, we are seeing the largest and probably most ambitious undertaking by any government surrounding housing in New Zealand since the Labour Savage Government of 1936. 

Why is this bill so significant and what is going to be the impact for both landlords and tenants?

The bill focuses on the ability of tenants to be able to keep their rental property warm and dry using energy efficient heating. The penalties for landlords who do not comply with this bill will be severe and we believe that the majority of rental properties across this country would not meet the criteria if it was set today. 

What does the bill focus on?

The Healthy Homes Guarantee bill states that all rental properties must meet the following standards.  

  • Standards about the indoor temperatures that must be capable of being achieved in the premises. We believe that this will be 18 degree Celsius.
  • Heating. Probably likely that the source of heating must be energy efficient.
  • Insulation. These standards have already been set.
  • Ventilation.
  • Moisture ingress.
  • Draught stopping.

If landlords fail to meet obligations in respect of healthy homes standards, then they may potentially face exemplary damages of up to $4,000 plus they will face a work order instructing them to get the property to the standards before they can rent it out.

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18 Degree Celsius

World Health Organisation recommendation for minimum indoor temperature

How Many Rentals Will Comply?

The big question we are all asking at the moment is what are the standards going to be? As yet we do not know but if you read between the lines one can assume that the indoor temperature capable of being achieved will be 18 degrees Celsius. This is the temperature set by the World Health Organisation as to what constitutes a suitable minimum indoor temperature for a home.

Many properties around New Zealand simply would not be able to achieve this and to get our current rental stock up to standard is going to be a monumental task. Particularly as we have a shortage of skilled tradespeople and the Government is promising to deliver 100,000 new homes over the next ten years. If you're looking for a new business opportunity, heat pumps, central heating and double glazing is probably the way to go. 

We are unsure as to when the standards will be set yet they will become enforceable at the earliest 1st July 2019 but no later than 1st July 2024. Each Tenancy Agreement and renewal or variation will need to have a statement on it stating that the property complies with the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill. Failure to do so is also an unlawful act with exemplary damages up to $500.

Baby Boomer Landlords Struggle To Accept Change

It was interesting to gauge the response of an audience of investors that I recently spoke to at an Investor Evening in Christchurch about the changes that they will face. As I explained the impact of this bill and the potential costs associated with improving the current rental stock I watched carefully assessing what the audience thought about it. I think it is fair to say that most of the audience, particularly the older generation really struggled with what I was telling them.

Baby Boomer landlords have generally been able to do what they like with regards to their investment portfolio, but things have changed and many of them don’t like it. I remember being a Property Manager about 10 years ago. When a landlord told you to do something you simply did it without question. Now, it is not so simple, taking shortcuts with regards to maintenance treating tenants poorly could see you end up in Tenancy Tribunal as tenants become more aware of their rights. Do not expect a warm greeting from your local adjudicator if you breach this legislation. The temperature in Tribunal will be as cold as the property you provide for your tenants.

 This student flat in Dunedin will not cut the mustard when it comes to the HHG Bill. If tenants cannot achieve an indoor temperature of 18 Degrees Celsius, landlords may face exemplary damages of up to $4,000. 

This student flat in Dunedin will not cut the mustard when it comes to the HHG Bill. If tenants cannot achieve an indoor temperature of 18 Degrees Celsius, landlords may face exemplary damages of up to $4,000. 

Landlords Face Double Blow As Negative Gearing To Go

The amount that landlords budget for repairs, maintenance and improvements will likely more than double over the next few years to ensure that their stock meets the criteria set in the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill. Many older properties may simply end up being demolished as the cost of making them compliant will simply not add up.

What will be a double whammy for landlords will be the removal of negative gearing. This is when landlords can offset their losses from their rental investment against their own personal income. Many, including myself think this is a bad move. In some cases investors may be able to offset about $4,000 to $5,000 from tax rebates on a single rental property.

This would go a long way to helping landlords front up with the added costs around compliance. Instead, many small Mum and Dad investors are going to be punished. Labour's policy around negative gearing is to remove tax loopholes which they claim the biggest users are large-scale speculators who own multiple rentals and use losses on new acquisitions to continually reduce their tax. Some may do so, but in our opinion it is the small Mum and Dad investors who own one or two properties that will be hurt the most. Some may be forced into selling their asset when they realise the costs associated with compliance no longer make it financially viable to own it.

Rental Warrant Of Fitness To Become Compulsory

We have long suspected that the Rental Warrant of Fitness (RWOF) will at some stage be written into law and we believe the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill will be the instrument for this to happen. Why else would the recent national census ask the question as to whether the property you live in has more than an A4 piece the size of mould in it? This is one of the criteria's under the Rental Warrant of Fitness. 

Although the rollout of the scheme in Wellington has been a flop, there is enough support for the RWOF across the power brokers of New Zealand politics and expect it to be incorporated into the standards set around the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill.

This will mean that every rental property will have to meet the criteria set by the RWOF and have assessments carried out probably every three years at a cost of around $250 to landlords.

This could become a new revenue stream for Property Managers as we see no reason as to why they cannot carry out these checks.

There is no doubt that successful Property Management is based primarily around people skills. However, we predict that more emphasis will be placed on Property Managers having more in-depth knowledge of the property that they manage and eventually move towards Asset Management.

Short-Term Pain For Long Term Gain

Overall, we believe that the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill in conjunction with the Rental Warrant of Fitness will benefit New Zealand long term. Housing is a basic human necessity and everyone should live in a warm, dry, compliant property. However, the cost of this exercise will be born by everybody. Landlords will have more costs, taxpayers will have to contribute to housing supplements and tenants are already facing greater hikes in rents.

Long term though, it is an investment worth making. It will contribute to a healthier nation with less pressure put on our already straining healthcare system. We will also see a more productive economy with a happier, healthier workforce taking less time off for sicknesses caused by unhealthy housing.

However, Labour could have done better by not hitting investors hard by removing negative gearing. One feels at times they are out of touch with the thousands of property investors up and down the country. Do they really think that they are all evil, wealthy capitalists, pouring hot tar on the poor peasant tenants below? This is the impression we get, particularly when you read their policies on the Labour party website. Many landlords will find themselves being pushed to the limit.

The reality is often opposite. Instead, Mum and Dad investors who own one property simply see an investment in property as a way of funding their retirement. They are about to get hit with a sledgehammer, penalised for being proactive and not looking at the state to look after them in retirement. That simply isn't fair.