QUALITY OF HOUSING AFFECTS QUALITY OF LIFE
We spend a significant amount of our lives in our homes. If that home is cold, damp, draughty, leaking, or otherwise uncomfortable then that has a major impact on our health, mood and general quality of life.
The stories we received confirm that many rental homes are of poor quality and that this significantly affects the lives of people who rent. The condition of the home people rented was the most common issue shared, with 62% of stories we received being about quality (or lack thereof). Many powerful stories spoke of living in poor conditions - cold, damp, often unsafe and unfit houses - which seriously affected other areas of tenants’ lives.
COLD AND DAMPNESS
A key factor in keeping a place warm is adequate levels of insulation. Yet only 30% of respondents said they had ceiling or underfloor insulation. This is comparable with the finding of the HRV State of the Home Survey, in which 36 percent of renters reported having insulation in their homes. (However it is well below the finding of the BRANZ 2015 House Condition Survey, in which independent assessors found that 77 percent of rentals had at least 70mm of ceiling insulation.)
Cold and dampness are ideal conditions for toxic mould to grow. Many people highlighted the level of mould in the place they live. A person who wished to remain anonymous, living in Christchurch, said:
Often commentators and landlords blame tenants for not ventilating their home. Yet we heard many stories from people desperately following all the advice they can get, yet still being unable to keep the mould away. As one person renting in Auckland put it:
Existing research backs up what the stories tell us and shows that rental housing tends to be in poorer condition than owner-occupied housing. Poor maintenance can expose renters to hazards and cold, damp conditions that affect their health. The BRANZ 2015 House Condition Survey found that of the rental properties assessed, more than one third felt damp, and mould was present in more than half of them. Around one quarter had less than 70mm of insulation in the roof space. Unsurprisingly, many renters report feeling cold or paying high heating bills. In the 2017 HRV State of the Home Survey, half of renters reported using as little heating as possible to reduce costs.
Trying to raise children in cold, damp homes was a common theme throughout the experiences shared. Sadly, many of the stories featuring children referred to health problems exacerbated by substandard housing. Here’s one story from someone who wanted to remain anonymous:
People described constantly getting sick, and being forced to take time off work and school, never properly recovering. When staying in the house makes you unwell, more time at home doesn’t help.
A person living in Wellington, said:
Of note were the stories from renters affected by disability or chronic illness. They shared how cold, damp housing impacted their lives:
While these stories are individually very sad, when these health impacts are considered over the entire population of renters the results are extremely serious. Numerous studies have shown that cold, damp conditions negatively affect renters’ health and mental health. Renters have been shown to take more sick days than owner-occupiers. Each year, over 40,000 children are hospitalized with respiratory and communicable diseases that have housing as a contributing factor. Further, an additional 1,600 New Zealanders die during winter months, a spike in mortality that is less pronounced in countries with warmer housing. The stories above are lived examples of these statistics, highlighting that quality standards demand urgent attention.
MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF SUBSTANDARD HOUSING
Dealing with cold, damp or unsafe homes every day can be highly stressful, and take a toll on people’s mental health.
Many shared stories of living in places that were downright dangerous.
Rose from Wellington shares her story of the daily treacherous journey to get the front door:
A Christchurch renter shares the hazards her flat endured due to neglected maintenance:
Steph’s story mentions living with a dangerous stove as a heat source:
EXISTING REGULATIONS AND HOUSING QUALITY
These stories highlight that existing regulations are not adequate to ensure houses are healthy and safe. Although by law, landlords must keep properties in a reasonable state of repair, the above examples show this is not always followed. Many renters live in hazardous homes.
Further, existing regulations do not ensure properties are warm and dry. Recent amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act have required some improvements to housing standards: landlords must now disclose whether the property is insulated, and install fire alarms. Insulation to 1978 standards will be compulsory in all rental homes from July 2019. However, these changes are unlikely to prevent the extent of problems renters describe in the stories above. Also, the onus remains on tenants to complain if their landlord does not comply, which is problematic.