A warm, dry, healthy, safe home. It is surely a basic desire for most people. In fact, it goes beyond that; it is a fundamental human right, spelled out in domestic legislation, international agreements and conventions to which New Zealand is a signatory, or with which it has agreed to comply. The crux of them is the right of people to have adequate, affordable, accessible, habitable housing where they can live in security, peace and dignity.
In a country where the quality of life should be good, our old, cold and mouldy homes are a disgrace. More than a third still have winter temperatures below the World Health Organisation's minimum healthy indoor temperature of 18C, according to Statistics NZ.
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For decades it may have been seen as something of a "rite of passage" for hardy students to rent mould-infested, frigid flats for their university years, but the fact they and increasing numbers of families have been living for long periods in substandard rental accommodation, when the health and social effects of doing so are widely known, is inexcusable.
In extreme cases, "housing poverty", in its various forms and with its various effects, is responsible for harming, sometimes fatally, our most vulnerable - namely children and the elderly, and those in our society often already struggling the most, those with less money, fewer options, and less power and ability to fight for their rights, particularly in a pressured property market.
The rules that came into effect in July last year started to right some of our housing wrongs. Most significantly, they obligated landlords of rental homes to fit ceiling and underfloor insulation "where reasonably practicable" in a bid to markedly improve the health of tenants. Conscious of what the changes would mean for those footing the bill, landlords were given three years' warning to get their properties up to scratch.
It is a shame then - as revealed by the Herald this week - the Tenancy Tribunal has heard more than 120 cases since July 1 in which landlords failed to insulate rentals or provide accurate insulation statements.
While it is pleasing the plaintiffs have won those cases, landlords fined and tenants compensated, there is still heated debate as to whether that is the tip of the iceberg or a rogue few. It is to be hoped it is the latter.
Tenants need to be protected and should not bear the costs of poor health - costs that in turn are borne by the taxpayer.
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There are calls for harsher penalties for landlords - above the $4000 tenants can claim in damages from landlords under the new rules at present. Others say there needs to be a better mechanism by which to check whether landlords are complying with the legislation; the onus should not be on the tenant.
The carrot, not the stick, may be ideal, but without proper follow-up and enforcement, it makes mockery of the rules - and where is the incentive for all those who are complying?
Landlords, their respective industry bodies, housing advocates and the Government need to continue communicating to ensure the rules are having the desired effect for tenants, work out ways to break down the barriers for those landlords genuinely unable to make the cut, and ensure the system acknowledges the efforts of those who have made the changes. This is particularly vital given another round of Healthy Homes regulations is on the cards for the middle of next year.
There shouldn't be resentment over a process that is improving the quality of New Zealand's homes, for owners and tenants alike; improving people's quality of life; and reducing the burden on the health system. It should surely be a win-win.