Overlooked legal regulations from 1947 may give tenants living in damp homes a stronger leg to stand on when making demands from landlords.
Researchers Dr Mark Bennett of Victoria University of Wellington, and Dr Sarah Bierre and Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman of Otago University in Wellington, published a paper examining how housing conditions are qualified in the Tenancy Tribunal.
The paper, entitled “Decent Expectations?: The Use and Interpretation of Housing Standards in Tenancy Tribunals in New Zealand” was featured in the New Zealand Universities Law Review.
The pair reviewed a year’s worth of cases from Wellington and Dunedin that had been published online by the Ministry of Justice.
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The 1947 Housing Improvement Regulations require homes to be free from dampness, but in many of the cases where tenants brought concerns of mold to the Tenancy Tribunal, the law was overlooked.
Concerns with damp, cold homes emerge every winter, but Dr Bierre says “it was surprising to find that even if [tenants] make it to the Tenancy Tribunal the dampness laws available to protect tenants are often not used.”
Dr Bennett says that as far as local authorities go, “there was always a reluctance to enforce the regulations” and councils tend to view the HIRs as out of date and only enforce them in the most extreme cases.
Regulations are pieces of “subsidiary legislation” that are usually created by Ministers. They dictate how acts are applied. Regulations are managed and enforced by Government agencies, like the Tenancy Tribunal. Whereas acts can only be overturned by a subsequent Act, regulations can be struck down in a variety of ways, which could explain why the HIRs have been overlooked.
Dr Bennett suggested that the disregarded regulations “may allow the tenant to get out of a fixed term tenancy without paying any compensation to the landlord” or “award compensation or rent reduction for a breach.”
VUWSA President Rick Zwaan was similarly welcoming and claimed the association would be in touch with Bennett, Bierre and Howden-Chapman with the view of collaborating in VUWSA’s continuing “push for minimal rental standards in Wellington.”
NZUSA President Rory McCourt welcomed the news that “there may be a long-forgotten way for tenants to have their cold, damp, flats upgraded” but insisted New Zealand “desperately needs” a universal standard of housing in order to protect tenants and their health.
In the meantime Dr Bennett suggested that “informing landlords of their obligations, and tenants organising such as in the recently formed group ‘Wellington Renters United’, could put more pressure on those landlords who own properties that do not meet the standard and who do not improve them.”