The Healthy Homes Bill was defeated last week and Peter Malcolm of Closing the Gap is completely wrong to say that Government rejected this bill to save landlords money.
The bill would have required landlords to meet standards, to be set by Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, for insulation and heating. The fact is, that any increase in the cost of providing rental property to New Zealanders is highly likely to be added directly to the weekly rental price. The reason is that rental prices in many areas of New Zealand have not risen for years.
In addition, a blanket wide minimum standard for all rental properties in New Zealand is not the answer for poor families with children living in cold damp houses. Rather than applying regulations and the associated costs to all rental property, some better analysis of the situation is needed.
The problem is complex. For example, if the occupants of an insulated property don't turn on the heating, then the property will still remain cold and damp. If they keep their curtains closed and don't let in the sun, or leave wet clothes inside on drying racks, or keep their windows closed, the house will remain cold and damp.
Any solution needs to be targeted to those in real need – those children suffering ill health from cold damp houses - otherwise funds will be spent were they are not needed.
An Otago Medical School study says that Government saves $4 for every $1 spent on heating and insulation for low income households. This is an excellent return on tax payers’ dollars. Rental property owners should be encouraged to install insulation and heating by making these tax deductible expenses.
Alternatively Government could target low income households with children by giving grants to ensure their houses have insulation and energy efficient heating. This would reduce the need for rental price increases.
Another Otago Medical School study shows that fuel poverty is a major problem for low income households. Government could help targeted families with an initiative like electricity vouchers over the winter months to encourage them to turn on their heating.
Finally there could be more education about how households can keep their homes warmer and drier, so that their actions are improving their living conditions, not making them worse.
Some tenants need to be advised of their rights in order to achieve action if poor maintenance of their rental property is causing it to be cold and damp. The Residential Tenancies Act will enable tenants to get this action.
There needs to be a wide variety of solutions because houses are cold and damp for many reasons. People need to realise that imposing minimum standards and regulations could actually make peoples' lives worse. This action could result in increased rental prices making it harder for tenants to turn on their heaters, for example, and achieve a reasonable standard of living.