Make hay while the sun shines.

That old chestnut is beginning to ring true for landlords staring down the barrel of a tenancy law change requiring them to have ceiling and underfloor insulation.

All rental homes must have ceiling and underfloor insulation meeting a set standard by July 1, 2019, where reasonably practicable. The rule is already in force for social housing where tenants pay an income related rent.

Now's the time to take action, says EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), not only to avoid the inevitable rush as the deadline draws near but also to take advantage of at least 20,000 insulation grants provided by the government over the next 18 months.

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Landlords can apply for an insulation grant of up to half of the cost of insulating the property, provided they meet the criteria. The home must be built before 2000, and tenanted by a Community Services Card holder.

EECA says the insulation industry can only cope with around 80,000 insulation retrofits a year. But, with an estimated 180,000 rental properties to be insulated to the required standard, unless the job begins in earnest now there will be a logjam approaching the July 2019 deadline.

The sting in the tail may be a penalty of up to $4000 for those landlords who have failed to bring their properties up to standard - about the same as the cost to insulate the average home.

"The longer people take to make that call, the more expensive it's going to be and they might miss out," says Robert Linterman, general manager, residential, at EECA. "The price will rocket because the demand will be so high or you'll get fly-by-nighters doing it and you'll get a rubbish job. Landlords need to act as soon as they can."

Linterman also points out there are around 120,000 rental properties housing people who hold Community Services Cards but only 20,000 grants available: "Only those acting quickly will be able to take advantage of that."

Felicity Foy, owner of nine rental properties in Northland, has just one piece of advice for landlords: get in quick.

"There are only a limited amount of EECA grants available and the benefits of insulating your properties are more than just creating a decent, healthy home for your tenants. I have three or four people calling me each week wanting to rent one of my properties. If you have a good standard in your properties you can expect your tenants to stay on or you can easily attract new, good tenants and there's more trust."

Each time Foy added to a new property to her portfolio, she immediately applied for a grant, and insulated the home through service providers Healthy Homes Taitokerau: "For me it's about my tenants' welfare. I wouldn't want to live in an uninsulated home, so why should they?"

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EECA matched dollar for dollar the investment by Foy - of around $2000 per home. "This legislation saves taxpayers' money in terms of health it treats the cause of health issues, rather than dealing with the problem afterwards."

Auckland landlord Anil Deo intends to have five of his properties insulated before next winter sets in:
"It's going be law, it adds value to my properties and it is a much healthier environment for my tenants."

So far Deo has insulated just one property, through Auckland service provider GreenStar Energy Solutions. "They will do the rest as soon as they can, when they have the capacity."

All landlords are now also required to disclose the extent of current insulation. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says all tenancy agreements signed since July 1, 2016, must include a state-ment disclosing whether there is insulation and its location, type and condition.

The Ministry has new powers to take action against landlords if they seriously breach basic housing standards and a new team of investigators. Tenancy compliance and investigations manager, Steve Watson, says the team has begun acting on complaints and information received, and at the invitation of tenants.

"We are working to crack down on poor landlord behaviour and will be in cities and towns across New Zealand. Our priorities include insulation and insulation statements, smoke alarms which are also now compulsory, and damp and poorly maintained houses."

Visit the Tenancy Services website for more information. Visit the Energywise website to find service providers offering insulation grants.

To find a Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes insulation company