Much is being said about Ms Swarbrick’s Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Certification Scheme) Amendment Bill and the problematic nature inherent in any honesty system, Healthy Homes notwithstanding. Proponents of the bill see it as the only solution to a healthy homes system that lacks meaningful enforcement, while opponents decry yet another layer of cost forced upon landlords that will, inevitably, be passed onto tenants. No surprises there.
Given that the bill hasn’t been drawn out of the biscuit tin nor received the necessary support (61 non-executive MPs) to warrant a first reading, we will wait to see how the legislative process unfolds before incorporating it into our advocacy agenda.
This being an election year and housing remains one of the top kitchen table issues for ordinary Kiwis, all proposed solutions should be appropriately understood and scrutinised. And in the case of this particular bill, the label on the tin most certainly does not match the biscuits it is selling.
Though ostensibly about Healthy Homes, the bill is actually far more ambitious in that it envisions an independent certification scheme that verifies and rubberstamps any aspect of the property that has to do with:
- the healthy homes standards;
- requirements in respect of smoke alarms under s138A of the Residential Tenancies Act;
- any requirement, related to health or safety, under any of the following:
- the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017;
- the Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fire Safety, Evacuation Procedures, and Evacuation Schemes) Regulations 2018;
- the Building Act 2004
- the building code (as defined in section 7 of the Building Act 2004)
- the Health Act 1956
- the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947
- the Local Government Act 2002; and
- any bylaw made under the Local Government Act 2002.
Under the bill, the landlord bears 100% of the cost for certification (which the Green Party estimates to be $200, whereas a Healthy Homes Assessment report costs approximately $250 in the current market). Certificates are to be renewed every four years (or when changes are made to the property in a way that invalidates the certification, whichever comes first) and must be attached to all tenancy agreements as well as lodged with the Bond Centre. The bill also seeks to bring forward Healthy Homes compliances for all renewed and varied tenancies.
Effectively, this is the Green Party’s legislative pathway to fulfilling the WOF aspect of its Pledge to Renters. Which, in and of itself, is fine. No one could fault a politician for doing what she promised to do. That said, given what is at stake for the 1.6 million Kiwis renters and their landlords, we think a more convincing way to win over public support is to be transparent and honest about the true objective of this bill, which is to legislate and install a Rental Warrant of Fitness scheme.