Unaffordable rental prices are in danger of rising even further as discussions flare up over whether landlords will be forced to install heat pumps into properties.
The Government passed the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act last December to lift the standards of living for tenants in rental properties.
It will have houses requiring fixed forms of heating to be installed, as well as insulation.
While the type of heating has yet to be confirmed, landlords were concerned it would force them to drive up rents even further.
Landlord Stephen Harte said his Masterton property was already insulated, which he had done ahead of requirements because he saw the benefit of looking after his tenants.
But due to the small size of the property, he did not yet see the benefit of installing a heat pump as it was already warm enough with the tenant’s own heater.
He said should the act require him to install one, he would wear the cost himself for the time being.
“It’s like smoke alarms and everything else, you just have to comply with it.
“You wear the cost yourself because you still try to make it affordable for the tenant, but all these things add up and you will eventually have to put the rent up.”
Trust House chief executive Allan Pollard said although 80 per cent of its houses already had some form of insulation, it will cost a further $240,000 to get its houses up to standard in time.
Completing the insulation would be problematic in some cases, as some of its houses had concrete floors which would make it difficult to install underfloor insulation.
He confirmed all Trust House properties already had a fixed form of heating, but was wary of the costs involved if it was required to install a secondary fixed form.
“We could look at having to put up rents again to accommodate this in the next 12 months,” he said.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the act gave every New Zealander a chance to live in a warm, healthy home.
“The Healthy Homes standards will cover heating, insulation, ventilation, draught stopping, drainage, and moisture,” Mr Twyford said.
“Most landlords do a good job, but the fact is the lack of legal standards means some rentals are not currently fit to live in.”
The Healthy Homes Guarantee Act will commence on July 1, 2019, with all residential tenancies having to comply with the regulations within five years.
Unhealthy homes: ‘enough is enough’
Masterton health professionals were given a simple message on Tuesday – cold homes, particularly rentals, are hurting our communities’ most vulnerable.
Otago University researcher at the Wellington School of Medicine, Nevil Pierse, spoke with health professionals and community housing representatives about the consequences of poor housing stock on health.
Dr Pierse said Wairarapa was not unlike his homeland.
“It’s not that much colder on the west coast of Ireland.”
The key difference was Ireland’s centuries-old housing had walls built from one-and-a-half-metre thick stone.
“Out here, it’s plyboard.”
The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill – which requires minimum standards for heating, insulation, ventilation and drainage in rental homes – passed its third and final reading in Parliament in November 2017.
Dr Pierse said it showed the Government wanted to improve housing standards across the country.
“This is doable, and we can get there.”
He wanted health professionals to speak up and let the Government know they wanted substantial change.
His number one tip for heating and having a healthier home was summed up in one word, “insulate”.
The recommended minimum indoor temperature, according to the World Health Organisation, is between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius.
Dr Pierse said in New Zealand, the average child’s bedroom was 14.5C – and the difference, in terms of what it does to a person’s well-being, was huge.
“If you go into a room that’s 14.5C it’s noticeably cold – and that’s the average.”
Sleeping in a room any colder meant your lungs were being unnecessarily stressed.
“Why should breathing in bed be a laborious exercise?”
He said temperatures across the country went well below the average, including a reading of -4C in a child’s bedroom in Bluff.
Connecting Communities is a community group which provides social services across Wairarapa.
Social Services manager Glenda Seville was unsure if a government act requiring landlords to provide a fixed form of heating in all rentals would keep tenants healthy – going as far as to say it could make an already tight situation worse.
“We’ve got people who budget really well and can buy firewood, and others who don’t have a penny to spare.
“People’s financial situation in general is there is no spare money to buy firewood or pay for power.”
Dr Pierse said the Residential Tenancies Act was clear – if you are a landlord, you are running a business.
“It’s not okay for any other business to be making your clients sick – and in some cases, dead.
“If your quality isn’t up to scratch, it has to be stopped – enough is enough.”
He said people in low-income rental housing were particularly at risk.
Wairarapa Hospital physician Niels Dugan organises a weekly meet-up of the Clinical Society – a group of Wairarapa health professionals who meet to share knowledge and hear from guest speakers.
He said respiratory disease disproportionately affected the young and the elderly.
Dr Dugan likened hospitals dealing with the effects of sub-standard housing to an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff.
“These things need government initiative.”