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It's renters versus the rest

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As the winter chill bites a new nationwide survey reveals the suffering those living in rental accommodation are enduring - and too often pleas to landlords to fix housing problems are being ignored.

The latest HRV State of Home Survey has found mould is prevalent in almost half of New Zealand’s rental homes and renters take more sick days than the national average.

Some landlords are refusing to address tenants concerns about the cold, damp and mouldy state of their homes with 56% of property owners doing nothing when contacted about housing issues by tenants.

The survey of 1450 respondents, conducted by research company Buzz Channel, is the third undertaken by HRV to gain an insight into issues facing New Zealanders in their homes (See table of key findings below).

Charles Crothers, Professor of Sociology at AUT, says a major issue highlighted in the survey is the problem of damp mouldy accommodation being widespread - with a third of Kiwis suffering from cold, hard-to-heat, and/or draughty houses.

However, he says, it is tenants and families living in sub-standard rental accommodation who are worse off. "It’s well known that New Zealand homes aren’t especially good at helping us to stay warm and dry but we now find ourselves in a renters-versus-the rest situation. Those who are renting are more likely to suffer a lot with a quarter suffering from a cold home and 20% living in houses that are difficult to heat."

The effects of sub-standard housing can be major, says Professor Crothers, with one in five moving out of a house because of factors such as dampness or mould.

"For renters that statistic is even higher with almost a third moving out of a home because it was damp, cold or mouldy - or all of those things."

Warming up with hot water bottles

While home owners more readily turn on the heater or heat pump to stay warm (67%) the methods of coping with cold, damp and mouldy homes are wide ranging.

Renters resort to less expensive ways of heating their homes with hot water bottles (29%) a popular alternative to turning on a heater to stay warm when watching TV at night, along with everything from sipping a hot drink (53%) and wrapping up in a blanket or duvet (79%) to wearing warm socks (72%).

Professor Crothers says renters are worse off in all aspects - having on average 3.6 sick days a year compared to an overall average of 3.1; they are less likely to think about retirement savings; and they feel vulnerable when thinking about the future because they find it hard to save.

Renters versus landlords

The contrasting renter and landlord dynamic is highlighted by 40 per cent of those in rental accommodation saying they would like their landlord to make their house healthier, whereas only a quarter of landlords said they would like to make their investment properties healthier.

While many renters who responded to the survey were happy with their accommodation, around a quarter have contacted their landlord about the cold, damp, and/or mouldy condition of their homes and of those complaints 56% of landlords did nothing. More than 20% of renters did not think their house was worth what they paid for it.

Renters’ comments included:

- "We had to replace our bedroom carpet because of black mould as the landlord didn't care. Since then our new carpet has turned mouldy."

- "Our power bill gets up to $1000 a month in winter and its only 100m2. There’s no insulation so the heat is basically going straight outside."

Professor Crothers says the state of New Zealand homes is not good enough and key to turning this around is ensuring current houses are brought up to standard and new homes are built to a high quality.

"The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill will bring rentals up to standard but it can’t stop there because it’s clear from the survey results that the housing stock in general is not in great shape and people’s health is suffering because of the state of their home."

Anti-social problems

Professor Crothers says the long term impact of the state of New Zealand’s homes will have health consequences as well as social implications. "A cold damp home can suck up valuable family income for everything from extra doctors’ visits through to paying more for electricity to heat a draughty and badly insulated home. "A cold home can also inhibit social interaction because people may be reluctant to invite friends over to their house, and kids won’t want to have friends over to play because they’re embarrassed about how cold and mouldy their house is."

Healthy home awareness

Insulation remains the most important consideration for people when it comes to their home with 97% considering it very important or important.

HRV CEO Bruce Gordon says increasing awareness about the combination of insulation, heating, and ventilation as being key to creating a warm, dry home came through in this year’s survey. "It used to be insulation and some sort of heating source that people were focussed on but now insulation, heating, and ventilation go hand in hand, and increasingly double glazing is becoming a high priority for people.

"People are not settling for anything less these days than a warm, dry, and healthy home. It’s what people want and expect - and it shouldn’t matter if you rent or own your home."

He says the plight of renters is worrying and changes proposed in the Healthy Home Guarantees Bill will help to improve the standard of rental properties.

"It will mean a healthier, more productive, and longer life for those living in these homes. But that’s only the start because the reality is children are dying - 15 little ones a year according to the Office of the Children’s Commission - and tens of thousands more are admitted to hospital because of the state of our homes."

Gordon says the changes under the bill need not be onerous and expensive for landlords and property owners.

To provide a cost effective way for landlords to improve the quality of their rental properties, HRV introduced a Landlord Leasing Solution last year.

"There’s no capital outlay and the scheme helps landlords to protect the longevity of their investment by ensuring rentals are kept warm and dry. It also means the overall health and wellbeing of tenants is improved which means good quality tenants will stay on.

"With more and more people being forced into rental accommodation because of the current housing market, it makes it even more essential that the rental housing stock is up to a high standard."

-This survey was conducted by Buzz Channel with participants sourced from buzzthepeople online research panel of more than 20,000 New Zealanders. We surveyed N=1450 respondents who were between the age of 18 and 74 years. The margin of error on this sample is +/- 3.6% at the 95% confidence level.

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