Landlords should wait to see if National wins October's election before spending money refitting their rentals up to new heating standards, a lobby group for property owners says.
The comments by the NZ Property Investors Federation have been labelled "deeply disappointing" by the Labour Party and questioned by the Real Estate Institute and the NZ Green Building Council.
The advice comes after National under new leader Judith Collins confirmed to the Herald it would tear up new Healthy Homes standards recently brought in by the Labour-led Government.
The standards require - from July 1, 2021 - that all rentals be fitted with insulation, heating and ventilation within 90 days of an existing tenant renewing their lease or a new tenant moving in.
Some rental owners had been preparing for next year's deadline by making the upgrades now.
But Andrew King, from the NZ Property Investors Federation, said National's election promise could give landlords reason to pause and sniff the wind.
Rather than be forced to install modern heat pumps, a National election win would allow landlords to instead give tenants a choice, he claimed.
Enjoy the benefits of a modern heat pump - which can cost up to $3000 - and be willing to pay for it in the form of higher rent, or forego it and pay cheaper rent.
"It probably is a good idea to hold off," he said.
King said he would personally install a heat pump straight away if his tenant wanted it and was willing to pay a higher rent because the tenant was the customer and needed pleasing.
But landlords didn't like to be told they had to do it because in some cases the tenant might not want new heat pumps, he said.
Labour's Associate Housing Minister Kris Faafoi took aim at King's comments.
"I would find it deeply disappointing if landlords were being given advice to hold off work that ensures they are providing safe, dry, healthy accommodation for fellow New Zealanders on the basis that a more malleable government might get into power and scrap basic standards that would see New Zealand's poor track record on healthy housing vastly improved," he said.
Real Estate Institute chief executive Bindi Norwell said ultimately landlords would make their own decisions about when to upgrade their rentals to meet the new Healthy Homes standards.
However, the institute's advice was to begin preparing now because waiting could mean landlords run into a shortage of workmen next year and miss the Healthy Homes deadline, leading to the risk of being fined.
Andrew Eagles, chief executive of non-profit NZ Green Building Council, also likened King's argument about tenants not wanting to pay for modern heating as equivalent to airbags in cars.
Some buyers might indeed choose cars without airbags if it meant they were sold at a cheaper price, he said.
However, airbags were mandatory because of the risk to public safety and flow-on cost to health systems that came from car accidents.
And, yet, even with the addition of modern safety features, cars were still affordable to most Kiwis, Eagles said.
Similarly, New Zealand's rental housing stock was among the worst in the developed world, bringing potential lifelong suffering to young children and families and large health costs, he said.
More than one-third of renters in Government surveys had reported they were living with dangerous mould in their homes, he said.
An independent poll commissioned by the building council also found 52 per cent of Kiwis would vote for a party that was willing to tackle the issue of poor housing urgently, he said.
The stoush continues a growing political emphasis on rental housing issues. Labour portrays itself as standing for renters' rights and National claims it is the defender of landlords.
Housing affordability was a key issue in the 2017 election, when National promised to build 26,000 new homes and Labour 100,000 over 10 years.
But with the Labour-led Government's failure to deliver on its KiwiBuild programme, both parties have backed away from house building programmes.
Instead, with home ownership rates plunging and more Kiwis facing the prospect of renting for longer, the Labour-led Government introduced a range of measures protecting renters' rights.
These included the new Healthy Homes rules to make homes warmer and dryer, limiting rent increases to once a year, and allowing tenants to keep pets and make simple changes to rental homes provided they fix the house afterwards.
They also banned landlords from evicting tenants with no reason. Labour said this would enable renters to talk about problems in their homes without fear of being branded a troublemaker and booted out.
But National has labelled the new measures "landlord bashing" and promised a regulation bonfire in which they would roll back all the Coalition Government's measures except for rules around insulation standards if elected.
Landlords argued that kicking renters out without giving a reason was the most efficient way to handle bad tenants. Losing this would mean they lose control of their properties and ultimately hurt neighbouring tenants the most because they have to continue living next to anti-social behaviour.