Improving housing quality in Porirua

We are interested in the quality of housing in Porirua and the impact of living in substandard housing on the health our children, young people and their whanau. Your house, whether you rent privately or from the state, or your own your own, can seriously affect your health if its not warm and dry and free from mould.  This can be challenging as many New Zealand homes were built before there were rules about things like insulation and ventilation.

Housing affordability, healthy homes and overcrowding are challenges facing many cities in New Zealand.  Porirua is no exception.  Over a fifth of children in Porirua live in a house which is overcrowded.  Over a quarter of residents report their home having a problem with damp or mould.  A third of residents struggle to pay for heating their homes properly through winter.

We have some regulatory powers to help address unsafe housing as well as an important advocacy and promotional role for healthy housing,as outlined below:

Our regulatory options for improving housing quality

In 2015 we reviewed the regulatory tools available to us that could be used to improve the quality of housing in Porirua.  Different pieces of legislation have been developed over time.  The overall approach is piecemeal and fragmented.  Much of the legislation is dated and poorly understood. 

In short, we concluded that  the current legislation is not fit-for-purpose and needs an overhaul.  This needs to be lead by central government as the issues of sub-standard housing are not are not unique to Porirua. The solution need to come from Government and be applied throughout New Zealand. 

To this end, we are advocating to central government for improvements in housing standards whenever opportunities arise.

In January 2016 we made a submission on the Government's Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill that proposed mandatory long-life smoke alarms and insulation. We indicating our support for the bill but requested inclusion of a broader range of requirements for private rentals.   This bill is now law and goes part way to where we want to be.  Insulation Statements are now compulsory on all new tenancy agreements.  Insulation will be compulsory on all rentals from 1 July 2019.  See Tenancy Services website for more detail.

Last year we also made a submission in support of Andrew Little's  Healthy Housing Guarantee Bill (No.2) that requires all rental properties to have heating and insulation.  Again, we support the proposed changes but would like to see additional requirements, at the very least requirements for heating, insulation and ventilation.  The select committee has heard submissions and is currently preparing a report due 30 June 2017.  We will watch with interest the progress of this legislation through Parliament.

Porirua Remit to LGNZ

As part of Council’s advocacy role to improve the quality of housing in the City, we submitted a remit to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) on 24 July 2016.  The remit, supported by Councils from other metropolitan areas, asked LGNZ to urgently engage with the Government on ways to strengthen minimum standards for rental housing to ensure it is warm, dry and healthy to live in.  93% of Councils voted in support of this remit. We are delighted with this result and will monitor developments between LGNZ and the Government on this important issue. 

Regulatory Requirements

Residential Tenancies Act

Are you a tenant or landlord? Tenancy Services provides information about your basic rights and what you must do under New Zealand tenancy law and guidance on dealing with common tenancy issues. Please note that the Council has no monitoring or enforcement role under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Landlords and tenants have a range of options for resolving disputes - which are handled by the Tenancies Tribunal. It is important that tenants keep paying their rent throughout any dispute process, otherwise it will likely jeopardise their ability to get redress through the Tribunal.

As mentioned above, the Government made changes to the Residential Tenancies Act (and associated regulations) last year to make homes warmer, drier and safer. Further changes are on there way. 

Health Act & Housing Improvement Regulations

The Council regulates the following aspects of the Health Act and Housing Improvement Regulations:

  • The landlord is responsible for ensuring the property is sound and that moisture does not enter the house from outside or from leaking pipes, ie if the source of dampness results from a building defect, such as poor building materials, construction, or leaking pipes.
  • Tenants are responsible for cleaning and maintaining premises to keep them free from mould, eg adequate heating and ventilation of clothes driers.
  • The Council can issue orders targeted at both tenant and landlord where the cause of dampness is the condition of a dwelling. Regulatory options include a cleansing order, which is requirement to cleanse the property, or nuisance notice, eg to remove build-up of rubbish.

Find out more:

 

The Building Act

The Building Act and the Building Code largely focus on the way that buildings are designed and constructed, and is mostly helpful for tenants in new or recently-renovated dwellings. For tenants in older houses, the Building Act provides some opportunity for the Council to manage actual and foreseeable harm relating to the building by:

  • identifying a building as dangerous or insanitary
  • declaring a building as dangerous, ie when there is an immediate threat that is likely to cause death or injury to people in or near it or damage to other property
  • declaring a building insanitary, including if the building has insufficient or defective provisions against moisture penetration so as to cause dampness in the building or in any adjoining building

Find out more:

Assistance Programmes

Whether you are a tenant, homeowner or landlord, a wide range of help is available to improve your home health, comfort and reduce energy bills.

Well Homes – help for whānau with housing-related health issues

Well Homes is a housing intervention service which supports low-income families with hosuing related health issues. Well Homes links whānau to appropriate services such as insulation, heating, curtain banks, beds, bedding, carpets, rugs, financial assistance and social housing providers. Simple cost-effective solutions are part of the plan e.g. whānau get white vinegar and a cloth to help with cleaning mould.

The Well Homes service is a partnership between Regional Public Health (RPH), Tu Kotahi Maori Asthma Trust, He Kāinga Oranga (University of Otago School of Medicine), and Sustainability Trust. Well Homes is a pathway for nurses, doctors, social workers and community health workers to refer a family or whanau, who may be experiencing housing problems, for support.

For more information please call 04 570 9002 or 0800 675 675, email wellhomes@huttvalleydhb.org.nz or message us via the Well Homes Facebook page.

EECA WarmUp New Zealand: Healthy Homes

Government funding is available to cut the cost of installing ceiling and underfloor insulation for low-income households. Currently, subsidised of 50% are available for eligible properties in Porirua. There is a limited number of subsidies available so residents are urged to take action quickly. Assistance with ceiling and underfloor insulation is available to all low-income households with people who have health needs related to cold, damp housing.

Properties may qualify if the following conditions are met:

  • The tenant or homeowner has a valid Community Services Card
  • The property was built before the year 2000
  • The property is within specific funded geographical areas

Referrals from mid to low-income households with health conditions related to cold, damp housing may also get funding.

Find out more: Sustainability Trust

Greater Wellington insulation assistance

The Greater Wellington Regional Council offers ratepayers up to $3,900 in financial assistance for home insulation. It can be repaid through a targeted rate on your regular rates bill over nine years.

Find out more: Wellington Regional Scheme

Rental Asset Report service

The Sustainability Trust is offering a new service to landlords in response to the new requirements under the Residential Tenancies Act 2016. The Rental Asset Report service involves a detailed building inspection to determine the level of insulation, heating and moisture in the home.  Landlords are given a Rental Asset Report with recommendations on what needs to be done to ensure properties are compliant with the new Act. They can install tamper-free 10 year smoke alarms if required. 

The Rental Asset Report service is available to landlords for $110 + GST.  More information on is available on the Sustainability Trust website.

Wellington Curtain Bank

Uncovered windows can lose four or five times as much heat as an uninsulated wall. The Wellington Curtain Bank provides free, fitted curtains to families around the Wellington Region.

Many landlords supply thermal-backed curtains in their properties as these are readily available and affordable.  Unfortunately they don’t wash well and the thermal backing can stick to itself and ruin the curtains if machine washed. They can be dry cleaned but this is an expensive option for landlords and tenants.

Instead of buying thermal-backed curtains, you can get lined (insulated) curtains made through the Curtain Bank. Double layering offers greater thermal qualities than thermally-backed single-layer curtains and if made from poly/cotton will wear and wash well.

The Curtain Bank is open from 1 March to 30 November each year on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for appointments. 

More information is available on the Sustainability Trust website.

Tips for healthy homes

Warm and healthy homes are good for landlords, because:

  • A rental property that’s well-insulated and has energy-efficient heating and appliances is easier to market and can attract a higher rent.
  • Tenants are likely to stay longer in a rental property that's warm and cheap to heat. This reduces the costs of high tenant turnover.
  • Tenants in a damp or cold home are more likely to suffer avoidable illness, often resulting in unplanned medical bills and time off work. Unexpected financial burdens like this may increase the risk of missed rent payments.

For further advice how to stay dry and keep moisture out, see: