Uninhabitable Property: What You Need to Know

An uninhabitable property is one that is no longer safe to live in or which may cause harm to the health of residents. Without proper maintenance, all properties in NZ are at risk of falling into this state of disrepair.

What is an uninhabitable property in relation to your portfolio and the tenants who live in the homes you own? What are your legal obligations?

Habitable Property Obligations for Landlords

As a landlord, you must provide your tenants with homes that are safe and healthy to live in. The requirements to achieve this are outlined in a number of laws. All landlords have a responsibility to have a broad understanding of their obligations under these laws and regulations. They are:

  • The Residential Tenancies Act – became law in 1986 and was then amended in 2016 with additional regulations and requirements. As mentioned above, it puts a requirement on landlords to ensure their properties are always in a reasonable state of repair.
  • Housing Improvement Regulations – local authorities enforce the Housing Improvement Regulations which are mainly concerned with ensuring all homes in the country are dry, warm, safe, and clean. Areas covered by these regulations include the size of rooms, the functionality of rooms, light, ventilation, dampness, drainage, sewerage, heating, overcrowding, and general sanitation.
  • Building Act – the Building Act outlines the standards that new home construction work must meet. This includes renovation work and there are no exceptions for rental properties. In other words, any work you get done on the properties in your portfolio must meet the standards of this law. A key part of the law is that any work on your properties must be in compliance with the Building Code.
  • The Building Code – the code outlines the standards your property must adhere to in relation to its structure, fire safety, access, durability, facilities, moisture prevention, and more.

In addition to the above, some local councils have their own additional and/or different regulations you must adhere to.

What About Sanitation?

Your properties can also be considered uninhabitable if they are deemed to be unsanitary. For example, if there is too much damp, if there are inadequate toilet or shower facilities, or if the drinking water supply is inadequate.

What This Means in Practice

The Residential Tenancies Act means you must ensure the properties you rent are in a “reasonable” state of repair. Of course, reasonable is a variable term and it is not defined in the legislation. In reality, a reasonable state of repair depends on the age of the property, among other things. This includes the character of the property and how long it is likely to remain habitable.

A good guide is to ensure your properties meet the standards set out in the Housing Improvement Regulations and the Building Act. Under a strict reading of the law, the latter typically only applies after you have carried out renovation, extension, or change of use construction work on the property.

That said, to ensure your properties remain in a habitable condition, you should maintain them to these standards at all times.

Doing so makes business sense too. After all, you may be able to charge higher rents when you keep the property in a good condition, plus tenants are more likely to stay for the long term.

For further questions & discussion, please contact Oaks Property Management Ltd at [email protected]

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