Six months ago I moved house and didn't think too much about the state of insulation and heating in our new rental home.

It was the middle of summer in humid Auckland and the 1950's weatherboard house seemed to retain heat well.

The landlord enthusiastically pointed out the heat pump - while only briefly mentioning there was no insulation as we signed the contract.

Now that we are in the midst of winter, I wish I'd given more attention to this detail.

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A month into cooler evenings and shivery mornings, insulation has become a much higher priority.

Each evening my partner and I dress in track pants, hoodies and slippers, and rug up on the couch with multiple blankets.

The heat pump has become an expensive life line, creating comfort but stressing the budget as our power bill rises by at least $60 a month.

The electric blanket on our bed makes our bedroom bearable, however, the pools of condensation on the windowsills and damp, mouldy patches forming in the corners of the ceiling point to a more serious problem.

But, it wasn't until July 1 that I really took note, as media advertised the cut off for landlords to have installed insulation in the ceiling and underfloor in all rental homes.

The roof cavity in our Ellerslie home. Photo / NZ Herald
The roof cavity in our Ellerslie home. Photo / NZ Herald

The requirement was put in place three years ago under the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2016, giving landlords ample time to comply - as well as offering Government grants to lessen their costs.

Taking this into account, my landlord's quick mention of no insulation doesn't quite make sense anymore, and I have begun to question my rights.

The Tenancy Services section of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) website became my source for information.

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It is here that I learnt that on signing our tenancy contract at the start of the year, we should have been provided with a separately signed insulation statement.

This statement has been required since July 1, 2016, and must disclose whether there is insulation in the rental home, where it is, what type and what condition it is in, so tenants can make an informed decision.

This is an informed decision my partner and I were deprived of.

A landlord who does not provide a complete insulation statement, or includes anything they know to be false or misleading, is committing an unlawful act and may be liable for a penalty of up to $500.

Landlords signing tenancy agreements with tenants must also provide an insulation statement. Photo / NZ Herald
Landlords signing tenancy agreements with tenants must also provide an insulation statement. Photo / NZ Herald

While my landlord has neglected this statement, the bigger issue at hand is the lack of insulation in our home.

Insulation requirements under the healthy homes standards state that all rental properties need to have insulation which meets the 2008 Building Code.

To meet the standards, rentals should have ceiling and underfloor insulation that is at least 70mm thick.

However, there are a few exemptions to the insulation standard, including:

• if it is not practical for a professional installer to install insulation, such as if there is insufficient space to install insulation in the roof cavity or sub floor.
• if you intend to demolish or substantially rebuild the home within 12 months
• if the tenant was the previous owner of the property. In this situation, compliance with the insulation standard can be extended for 12 months from the date that tenancy commenced.

Our home has both access to the roof cavity and sub floor, while neither of the other two exemptions apply, which would suggest it should be insulated.

In cases, like mine, where tenants feel their landlord has breached the law, they can make a complaint to the Tenancy Services Compliance and Investigations Team.

The website states that where ongoing breaches are identified, the team use a number of interventions and enforcement activities to make sure landlords comply with their obligations under the Act.

In the most serious cases, the team may decide to take proceedings against a landlord in the Tenancy Tribunal on behalf of a tenant.

Unless an exception applies, landlords who don't have the required insulation installed may face paying a penalty of up to $4000, which is usually paid to the tenant.

Landlords with more than one tenancy may face separate damages for each property that doesn't comply. They will then still need to install insulation that meets the correct standard.

Any landlords who still don't comply after paying the penalty may face further action.

For more information:

• The Tenancy Services website or call 0800 836 262.
• About the Tenancy Services Compliance and Investigations Team.
• How to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal.

* Author's name witheld due to tenancy status