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Lockdowns have meant that many landlords will simply fail to comply with the new standards. We argue that they should be given more time.

On the 10th of September, Transport Minister Michael Wood made an announcement. The Transport Minister stated that due to the outbreak of the Delta variant and the lockdowns which have affected so many people, driver licences, Warrants of Fitness, Certificates of Fitness, vehicle licences and licence endorsements that expired on or after 21 July 2021 will be valid until 30 November 2021.

In a press release, Minister Wood stated that “Lockdown is stressful. People shouldn’t have to worry about getting fined for having a recently expired WoF if driving to access essential services or as an essential worker.”

This was a sensible approach after pressure had been put on the Government by the Road Transport Forum (RFT). Chief executive of the RFT Nick Leggett stated that “In our heavily regulated industry, paperwork matters”.

This leaves us asking a simple question. If transport gets to park their WoF’s until the end of November, what about landlords?

With the introduction of the Rental Warrant of Fitness (RWoF), landlords are facing deadlines of their own and for many, these will now be unattainable due to the lockdown. If you are a landlord in Auckland and you rented your property post 1st of July 2021, or you renewed a lease, you have a 90-day deadline to ensure that the property becomes compliant with Healthy Homes standards.

All is well and good, but when a region is locked down and your rental property is non-compliant with healthy homes, your 90-day deadline does not stop. The outcome of this means that many landlords will end up breaching healthy homes standards and there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

When it comes to assistance from the government in these days of lockdowns and pandemics, landlords never seem to get a look in. If the Government is prepared to offer extensions for vehicles that are on our roads, wouldn’t it make sense to offer extensions to properties as well, especially as the days get warmer and longer?

I am fully supportive of the healthy homes initiative and we need legislation that forces landlords to raise the quality of their rental properties. The poor quality of much of the rental stock in New Zealand has been highlighted by many in recent times. As more and more people rent for longer periods of time, healthy housing is essential for the well-being of our country. 

However, as the first deadline came and passed, it became apparent that much of the housing stock that has been inspected for healthy homes compliance has fallen short of the standards required. This was highlighted by a nationwide company that carries out healthy homes inspections. Of the 14,000 inspections that it had carried out, approximately, only a quarter of these inspections passed current healthy homes standards. This will not come as a surprise for many.

What has been an issue is that the Government also admitted that they were having significant issues with their heating calculator. Many new builds were failing healthy homes inspections due to the open plan nature of many of the properties. The concern that the Government has is that the heating calculator is inaccurately overstating the heating requirements for the living space, meaning that many landlords are being forced unnecessarily to spend money on extra heating that is not likely to be required.

The role out of healthy homes has therefore been seriously compromised by a heating calculator that is apparently not fit for purpose and a lockdown that is leading to delay times in getting properties compliant that will likely surpass the 90-day deadline. Surely it makes sense to extend the deadline. 

ACT Deputy leader and housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden has picked up on the issue in regards to Healthy Homes compliance. She recently stated that common sense and compassion must be used with regard to rental regulations. A level 4 lockdown means that tradespeople have been unable to carry out work that was required for the Healthy Homes Standards and there will now be massive backlogs. This may not be a major issue outside of Auckland where the rest of the country had to endure a three-week lockdown, however, Auckland, which has had to endure a far longer lockdown, will have major issues and many properties will now be in breach of the Residential Tenancies Act.

Van Velden went on to say that ‘The Government said that all private rentals must comply within 90 days of any new or renewed tenancy after 1 July 2021. This simply won’t be possible for some landlords now and it’s through no fault of their own.’

Some will argue that landlords have had plenty of time to get their properties compliant and there should be no change to the deadlines. There is no doubt that landlords have had time, but dates are set so landlords can manage their time and resources. If unforeseen circumstances lead to many landlords not being able to meet deadlines, it is unfair to penalise them as there has been no intent to not comply. And remember our Government has set their deadline until July 2023 to comply with Healthy Homes. Some would argue that they are being somewhat hypocritical. Do as we say, not as we do.

Likewise, when you have a Government that is fully aware of issues with regards to the Heating Calculator, you may argue that from a legal point of view that it would be impossible to write an order against a landlord when you cannot accurately assess whether the property is compliant or not. 

Then, to add to this, there are delays in obtaining stock such as heat pumps. As goods cannot be moved out of Auckland as well as a general shortage of supplies, this further compounds the issue with regards to achieving compliance deadlines.

In this case, Brooke van Velden has a strong case. It makes sense to extend the 90-day deadline until April 2022. This should not be a major issue for tenants and should not impact their comfort. If there are issues around drainage or dampness, then a landlord still has a legal obligation to rectify this regardless of whether Healthy Homes standards are in place or not. This has been law since the inception of the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947. If a rental property has issues with drainage or dampness then it is potentially breaching multiple pieces of legislation and in particular, Landlords Responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act. The maximum amount of exemplary damages for breaching this, $7,200. Tenants are already well protected. 

As warmer months arrive, the issues we see around cold and dampness will be less of a concern. The extension will give enough breathing space for landlords to get their properties compliant without putting unnecessary and unrealistic demands on them. 

We all want and require a warm and dry housing stock, we just want a bit of commonsense to prevail.

If vehicles and motorists can be given a grace period, then surely rental properties and the landlords who own them should be treated the same. This isn’t a case of negating your responsibility as a landlord. It is about making a minor change to cater for unforeseen circumstances so landlords are not in breach of their obligations even though they’ve done nothing wrong.

David Faulkner

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