28 May 2024

Tenants still battling mould and damp, despite healthy homes standards compliance

8:05 am on 28 May 2024
Rose says she's been forced to live in a Dunedin home that's mouldy because there's nowhere else to go.

Rentals that meet government standards for insulation and ventilation are still cold and damp, renters say. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Tenants say they are still experiencing cold, damp and mouldy homes, despite them being compliant with healthy homes standards.

The standards, which set minimums for rental insulation and ventilation, became law back in 2019, but not everyone has yet been required to comply.

Private rentals need to comply within 120 days of any new or renewed tenancy on or after 1 July 2021, and must comply by 1 July 2025.

In 2022 Em moved into a rental that they were told met the standards.

"We got the paperwork that said it was healthy, we trusted it."

Em said despite that, they still had mould in the bathroom and the bedrooms did not hold their heat.

"I started having to go to the doctor more often and my flatmate, who has asthma, she had to leave after about six months from living in that place because she just got unwell."

Em said they had since moved to a building less than two years old and have noticed the difference in their health.

But living in the newer building also came at a cost, with rent coming in at about 35 percent more than their previous rental.

In 2023, Autumn also moved into a rental they were told complied with the healthy homes standards.

"All of my clothes in my wardrobe were covered in mould almost within two weeks," they said.

"There was mould growing inside of my pillows that I did not have before I moved into that flat."

Autumn had also since moved to a different rental. Alongside the lack of mould, they were noticing a difference in the warmth.

"I used to have to wear about six layers of clothes this time last year," they said.

"But in my new flat I've been wearing shorts and a singlet."

Checks are 'fairly good'

Tony Sands, the general manager of home ventilation company DVS, said there had been "a definite response from landlords in the early days", with an uptake in extract fans and heat pumps. But that demand had since petered out.

New Zealand Property Investors' Federation president Sue Harrison said there was no reason not to comply with the rules and the federation's members had worked hard to ensure their properties complied.

"I think the checks are fairly good in terms of new tenancies you have to fill out a form that says they're up to standards and anyone who's not following those rules or not complying can easily be taken to the Tenancy Tribunal for a low cost."

However, Renters United spokesperson Luke Somervell said the tribunal was not set up to "make things easy" for renters.

"Even if you win, you're still stuck in the same place you began and you'll need to enforce the ruling yourself. So it's really a rigged system that's leaving renters out in the cold."

He said for many renters, the reality was that they had to choose between a cold draughty house or no house at all.

"They'll pick the draughting cold house and they'll put up with it because they don't have much choice, unfortunately."

He said with more people becoming and staying renters, this was not an issue that was going away.

He wanted to see better regulations for the rental market than what the healthy homes standards offered.

Harrison also said there were parts of the standards that did not work well.

One example was new builds that were insulated to a point they did not need the same heating facilities as required by the standards.

Government housing provider complying

Meanwhile, for all houses rented by Kāinga Ora and registered Community Housing Providers, the deadline to comply with healthy homes standards is 1 July 2024.

Kāinga Ora said as of 30 April 2024, 99.8 percent of Kāinga Ora homes required to meet Healthy Homes Standards either met them or had work in progress to meet them.

"That equates to 67,208 homes already meeting the Standards and another 257 homes that currently have work underway to bring them up to standards," general manager of national services Nick Maling said.

Kāinga Ora was working towards bringing the last remaining homes up to the standards required by 1 July, he said.

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