Living in your house or flat: Rights and obligations
Keeping your home 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 (an oven and stove top).
The law will be changing after July 2021: New minimum standards
The government introduced the new “Healthy Homes Standards” laws in May 2019. 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 over several years after 1 July 2021. They will finally be in force for all rental properties from July 2024.
Protection from July 2021 under the Healthy Homes Standards
What are the Healthy Homes Standards?
The Healthy Homes Standards require every rental property to have:
- Ceiling and underfloor insulation – there must be insulation in the ceiling and under the floor. This is in force from 1 July 2019.
- Heating – the living room must have a heater capable of heating the room to at least 18 degrees. The heater must be fixed to a wall or floor of the house, and can’t be a portable heater like an LPG bottle heater. An electric heater must have a thermostat that shows the temperature and allows it to be adjusted. Open fires or portable unflued heaters are not legal.
- Ventilation – there must be windows that can open in the living room, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms to allow airflow into your home, except for rooms that were legally built without windows. The kitchen and bathroom must both have an extractor fan except if it isn’t possible to install them.
- Moisture drainage – since build-up of moisture causes dampness there needs to be efficient drainage for removal of water (like storm water, surface water and ground water) under and outside your home. To help remove the water from the roof your house things like gutters, downpipes and drains should be installed.
- Underfloor ground moisture barrier – where there is an enclosed underfloor space, like a basement, your home must have a ground moisture barrier, unless it’s not reasonably practicable to install one. For example, if an experienced professional installer (not just your landlord) can’t access the space under your house without substantial building work or without causing substantial damage to the building, it won’t be reasonably practicable to install a barrier. But if it’s just a matter of removing base boards from the outside of the building to access the space, then the work has to be done.
- Draught stopping – there must not be any gaps or holes in walls, ceilings, windows, skylights, floors and doors. Unused chimneys and fireplaces must be blocked off.
When do the Healthy Homes Standards take effect?
Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Regulations 2019 Schedule 1 cl 2; Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Regulations 2019 Sch 1, cl 11; Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Regulations 2019, regs 30, 31
The ceiling and underfloor insulation Standard is already in force. The rest of the Standards come into force on different dates as follows:
- boarding houses must comply with these standards by 1 July 2021.
- Kāinga Ora (Housing New Zealand) and community housing tenancies must comply by 1 July 2023.
- all private rentals must comply within 90 days of any new, varied or renewed tenancy from 1 July 2021, with the aim of all complying by 1 July 2024.
From 1 December 2020 landlords must include a statement of their current level of compliance with these standards in any new or renegotiated or renewed tenancy.
There is an exemption if the tenant used to own the property or if the property is going to be demolished or substantially rebuilt.
Healthy homes information that must be in a tenancy agreement
From 1 July 2019 the following information must be included in a tenancy agreement:
- the heating capacity of the living room and the type of heater provided
- the date the ceiling insulation was installed and last inspected, and its “R” value (its warmth rating). The higher the R value, the greater the insulating power (warmth)
- a statement that the windows comply with the standard, and the diameter and exhaust capacity of the extractor fans
- a statement that the fireplace has been closed off or the chimney blocked, or (if you the tenant have asked for this) that the fireplace is available to use
- a statement that the building is free from gaps
- a statement that the building has an efficient drainage system, and a moisture barrier (if applicable).
Your landlord must keep enough relevant paperwork to prove that they have complied with the Healthy Homes Standards.
Existing protections until the Healthy Homes Standards come into force
Until the Healthy Homes Standards are fully in force (see above), some important minimum rights for tenants continue to exist under the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947, as we explain in this section below.
Does my landlord have to provide a heater?
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 an approved form of heating. These are gas heaters, whether portable or fixed to the wall, that don’t vent to the outside air. They produce a number of harmful pollutants (like carbon monoxide), and also produce water vapour, which can lead to mould and dust mites.
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
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?
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).