8 Jul 2021

Tenants could be hesitant to try enforce Healthy Homes Standards, lawyer says

4:58 pm on 8 July 2021

Those advocating for tenants say it should not be up to renters to enforce the Healthy Home Standards - due to the power imbalance.

Frank Poissonnier, who lives at Concord Place in a social housing complex, says he's fed up with the cold and mouldy conditions at his home.

If a landlord has not complied with Health Homes Standards after 90 days, renters are able to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for a work order. Photo: RNZ / Eleisha Foon

From this month, landlords have to meet the healthy homes standards within 90 days of a new tenancy.

However housing lawyer Machrus Siregar from Community Law Wellington explained there were complications if the landlord had not complied after that 90 day period.

"The tenants could apply to the Tenancy Tribunal and seek a work order to have the landlord complete that work.

"My concern with this is that it puts enforcement onto the tenants and tenants are very hesitant, understandably so, to initiate proceedings against their landlord. It's because they're concerned about being blacklisted or some [other] sort of retaliation."

Siregar was also concerned that many tenants will not be aware the cut off to get homes up to standard for periodic tenancies is 2024.

He agreed with the Healthy Homes Standards in principal, but said the onus should not fall to the tenant.

"In my view the alternative is to have both local councils and central government take a proactive approach to enforcing laws regarding buildings and health and safety. I would like to see something similar to a warrant of fitness or just more regulation of the rental sector."

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis recommends tenants speak to their landlord in the first instance, but all landlords should expect to meet the regulations.

"In reality that's going to be difficult because the government itself has admitted that some of these standards that are now in place are under review because of problems with them.

"I think what this shows us overall is there is a real lack of clarity about how this new law will work in practice and what it means in a practical sense. I will be watching this closely to see whether it delivers what was promised and I am doubtful that it will."

National Party MP Nicola Willis

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

She also thought reluctance from tenants could also be a factor.

But Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams said the government has acted to address this.

"The changes we've made in terms of the Tenancy Tribunal will give tenants the opportunity to take landlords to the tribunal to resolve those issues. We think the changes we've made have rebalanced some of the power imbalance in that relationship."

Changes to the Tenancy Tribunal this year include the ability to give landlords of six or more tenancies fines up to a maximum of $50,000 for serious breeches and hearing claims up to a $100,000.

Tenants can also apply for name suppression, to avoid future landlords looking them up on Tribunal records.

However, Siregar says name suppression is only available if the tenant's claim is wholly or substantially successful.

"Even if they're not on a blacklist or published in the tribunal, you can bet the landlord or the property manager will give a poor reference for that tenant."

Williams says they will be monitoring the enforcement of the healthy home standards closely.

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