Living in your house or flat: Rights and obligations
Keeping warm and dry: What your landlord has to provide
Your current rights
As we explain in this section, your landlord has specific legal obligations to provide you with heating appliances and to make sure your place isn’t damp. The Tenancy Tribunal has been getting particularly strict about these requirements since 2017.
Landlords also have to provide proper cooking appliances.
The law will be changing after July 2021: New minimum standards
The government issued new “Healthy Homes Standards” in May 2019, in the form of new regulations. These set minimum standards that landlords have to meet – for example, your living room will have to have a heater that will heat the room to at least 18 degrees.
These new requirements will come into force progressively over several years after 1 July 2021. They will finally be in force for all rental properties from July 2024. We’ll include full details of these new requirements in future editions of the Community Law Manual.
In the meantime, some important minimum rights for tenants continue to exist under the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947, as we explain in this section.
Does my landlord have to provide a heater?
Residential Tenancies Act 1986, s 45(1)(c); Housing Improvement Regulations 1947, reg 6; Cases: District Court, Chch, CIV-201 0-009-3562, 3 Feb 2011 – Tenancy Tribunal 4095081
Yes. The law says landlords have to provide an “approved form of heating” in the living room. This can’t be just a power point (an electrical outlet) or a gas outlet – there has to be some kind of heating appliance.
Landlords don’t have to provide heating in the bedrooms and other rooms.
In various cases the Tenancy Tribunal has looked at exactly what kind of heating appliances a landlord has to provide. It doesn’t have to be a heat pump. On the other hand, landlords won’t be able to get away with something that’s clearly inadequate given the size of your place – like a small electric heater in a large home. In one case, the Tenancy Tribunal decided an electric wall heater was an approved form of heating.
Unflued gas heaters are not good enough – these are ones, whether portable or fixed to the wall, that don’t vent to the outside air. These are unacceptable because they produce a number of harmful pollutants (like carbon monoxide), and also water vapour, which can lead to mould and dust mites.
Case: Tenancy Tribunal 4081393
If there’s a fireplace, the landlord has to make sure the chimney is swept regularly.
Does my place have to have insulation?
Yes. From 1 July 2019 all rental homes must have ceiling and underfloor insulation, unless your place is an exception because it’s not reasonably practicable for insulation to be installed. (Social housing provided by the government or community providers has been required to have insulation since July 2016.)
An example of an exception is if your place is built on a concrete slab so that it’s not possible to install underfloor insulation – or if you have a “skillion” roof, where there’s no ceiling space between the ceiling and the roof where insulation could be installed.
All new tenancy agreements also have to include a separately signed “insulation statement”, covering what insulation the place has and what type it is.
Does my landlord have to make sure the place isn’t damp?
Yes. Your landlord is legally required to make sure your place is set up to be free from dampness. The kinds of issues the landlord might be responsible for and have to address include:
- the lack of extractor fans (ventilator fans) in the kitchen and bathroom
- windows in the kitchen and bathroom
- the lack of heating (there’s a separate legal requirement to provide an approved form of heating: see above “Does my landlord have to provide a heater?”)
- problems with drainage.
In one case the Tenancy Tribunal put the issue this way:
“Preventing mould in a house is a dual obligation of the tenant and landlord: the tenant must live in a way that avoids mould developing by heating and ventilating the house, and wiping away daily condensation that arises from ordinary living; and a landlord must provide a house that is not prone to mould, fix any issue creating mould; and provide the means to heat and ventilate it.”
If your place is damp – for example, there’s mould on the walls – you can remind the landlord that they’re breaking the law and get them to fix it. If they don’t do anything about it, you can take them to the Tenancy Tribunal, and ask for an order to fix the problem.
If you do take the landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal, you’ll need to provide evidence of the dampness – usually this would be photographs of mould.
You can also ask the Tenancy Tribunal to order the landlord to pay you compensation, but you can also ask the Tribunal to pay an extra amount, called “exemplary damages”, up to $4,000.
Example: A smoking fireplace, and a lot of mould
Case: Tenancy Tribunal 4139773
The tenant took the landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal, claiming the landlord hadn’t provided an adequate means of heating and that the place was cold and damp, along with other problems.
The law says that there has to be a fireplace or an approved form of heating. In this case there was a fireplace, but the chimney didn’t work, so the Tenancy Tribunal found the landlord had breached this obligation. The landlord argued that the place was cold because the tenant often left doors open – but the Tribunal said that would have been necessary to make sure the place was adequately ventilated.
The Tenancy Tribunal said it can often be hard to pinpoint the cause in cases where a tenant complains of mould. In this case it seems all the landlord had done was offer to paint the place with anti-mould paint – the tenant had said no to this, because it would have meant moving out for a while. The Tribunal said there were probably several reasons for the damp, including poor insulation, poor heating in the lounge, and lack of security stays on the windows to allow them to be open slightly for ventilation. The Tribunal said the landlord should have taken proper steps to fix the mould problem.
The tenant got compensation
To compensate the tenant for the heating, damp and other problems, the Tenancy Tribunal worked out a rent refund of $3,300, which was about 10% of the rent paid over the tenancy, which lasted about 18 months.
On top of that, the Tribunal also awarded the tenant $600 in “exemplary damages”. This is an extra amount on top of compensation – it’s intended to punish the landlord and discourage other landlords from doing the same thing. The Tribunal said that: “There was a persistent pattern of the landlord taking a minimalist approach to repairs, which meant that problems were not properly fixed. Therefore, an award of exemplary damages is appropriate.”
The maximum exemplary damages that could be awarded for this is $4,000. This landlord hadn’t been taken to the Tribunal before, and the Tribunal decision-maker said “Normally I consider exemplary damages of around 30% of the maximum for a first incident.” That would have meant an extra award of $1,200, but the Tribunal gave the landlord credit for having recently installed an energy-efficient heater in the lounge and putting proper insulation in the house. The amount awarded was therefore $600.
Is my landlord responsible for leaks?
Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 38, 45(1)(b); Case: Tenancy Tribunal 4139470
Yes. The landlord is responsible for fixing any leaks in your place, as part of their obligation to keep the place in a reasonable state of repair.
The Tenancy Tribunal says that in general leaks are a serious issue and landlords have to fix them promptly. They shouldn’t be seen as just an inconvenience, because leaks create an undesirable, unhealthy living environment. They go to the heart of your right to have the use and enjoyment of the place, in return for the rent you pay.
Leaks can also cause dampness, and your landlord has a separate obligation to make sure your place is free from dampness (see above, “Does my landlord have to make sure the place isn’t damp?”).
Does my landlord have to provide a stove and oven for cooking?
Yes. Your place must have a kitchen, and the kitchen must have an adequate means of preparing and cooking food.
This includes both by boiling (so a stove top with elements) and by baking (an oven).