New laws for Smoke Alarms Deadline July 2016

 • All rental properties must be insulated by July 2019, though exemptions apply to properties where it is physically impractical to retrofit insulation.

• Smoke alarms must be installed in all rentals from July 2016, but tenants will be responsible for replacing batteries and notifying landlords of defects.

• New powers to prosecute landlords for breaking tenancy regulations, particularly where there is risk to tenants’ health and safety.

• The changes also ensure tenants can take concerns to the Tenancy Tribunal without fear of retaliatory evictions.

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Back in July 2015 the Government has announced plans to strengthen residential tenancy laws.Every rental property in New Zealand will have to be insulated within four years, Government has confirmed.

Housing Minister Nick Smith announced plans this morning to strengthen residential tenancy laws, including requirements for landlords to provide smoke alarms and insulation, and to declare the standard of insulation on tenancy agreements.

“The new law will require retrofitting of ceiling and underfloor insulation in rental homes over the next four years,” Dr Smith said in a statement.The requirement would apply from July for Government-subsidised social housing, and from July 2019 for all other rentals including boarding houses.There would be some exceptions, such as in houses where it was physically impossible to retrofit insulation.Smoke alarms would be compulsory from July.”Regulations will make landlords responsible for ensuring an operational smoke alarm is in place, and tenants responsible for replacing batteries or notifying landlords of defects,” Dr Smith said.

“The insulation retrofitting is expected to cost $600 million, with benefits of $2.10 for each dollar of this cost. ”

The minister said smoke alarms would save the lives of three people every year. 180,000 New Zealand homes required insulation and 120,000 homes needed smoke alarms.

“The health benefits of this will be reduced hospitalisations from circulatory and respiratory illnesses, reduced pharmaceutical costs, and fewer days off work and school,” Dr Smith said.The Government said the average cost of retrofitting both ceiling and floor insulation was about $3300. Landlords could apply for a subsidy through the “Warm up New Zealand: Healthy Homes” scheme, but funding for that programme was only guaranteed to run till next June.

The new smoke alarm standards required a minimum of one working smoke alarm in a hall or similar area, within 3m of each bedroom door.In self-contained sleep-outs or caravans, at least one working smoke alarm would be needed, in line with Fire Service recommendations.Based on the limited information available, officials estimate that about 270,000 private residential rental properties are inadequately insulated.These include 150,000 rental properties occupied by low-income tenants, but exclude properties where it is not practicable to insulate due to physical design of the property.

Since 2001, the Government has spent $500 million to insulate all state houses where practicable and since 2009, subsidise retrofitting of insulation in 280,000 private residential properties.

Officials estimate 180,000 privately tenanted rental properties will require retrofitting of insulation in the period up to July 2019.Tenants’ Protection Association (Auckland) coordinator Angela Maynard was thrilled by the changes which would help thousands of Auckland tenants keep safer and warm. Regulations around insulation and fire alarms were simply common sense which should have been introduced years ago, she said, and the changes did not go far enough.”It’s way past when it should have happened and not before time. Any landlord who hasn’t provided smoke alarms in my opinion is remiss.”

Dr Maynard said as house prices rocketed across Auckland and wages failed to keep pace, countless residents were being shut out of homeownership and forced to rent for life. She wanted better tenure security for tenants like those in place in some overseas countries, notably Germany and Switzerland.

Tenants’ Protection Association (Christchurch) manager Helen Gatonyi said the “superficial changes” were a good start which could signal the beginning of a significant change for New Zealand tenants.She welcomed moves to insulate homes and make smoke alarms mandatory. But she cautioned that thousands of properties would either be exempt from insulation rules because of their physical layout, or retro-fitting would make little difference because the properties had broken windows or failing electricity.

Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse said the move was “a reasonable first step”.

These proposed changes are an important step in lifting the standard of rental properties, while ensuring tenants have greater rights,” she said. Read the full article on the NZ herald here.

Fire service representatives seemed to have welcomed the changes. A Fire Service spokesman said it welcomed the requirement to install smoke alarms in rental properties because renters were more at risk than owner-occupiers.”About 90 per cent of house fire fatalities are in rental properties, which often do not have working smoke alarms. This measure will give renters greater warning and protection.”NZUSA President Rory McCourt said minimum standards were long overdue and requiring retrofitting of ceiling and underfloor insulation over the next four years would both improve the health of tenants and save the lives of children and chronically sick New Zealanders.”We’re pleased that the government has finally acknowledged the serious problem of houses that make us sick. Now the challenge will be to get the law right, making sure all rental houses have insulation, heating and a way tenants can know if it’s safe to live in.”The union would like to see the proposal improved by including a cost-effective heating such as heatpumps in the requirements and for houses to be rented only after being independently certified as not damaging to the health of tenants.

To find out more about your liabilities and obligations as a Landlord get in touch with our Property Law Team.