Heating up the housing debate

When he first came to power, John Key told the story that Helen Clark had given him a piece of advice before she headed off to New York. “Heat homes” was what she told him to do, and John Key said he took that particular piece of advice on board.

However, John Key seemed to think that she had intended that the government fund some, if not most, of the cost of heating homes. But now, over nine years on, it seems the new government has another source of funding for this. This from NZHerald?Quote.

The Government is pushing ahead with new rules to get heating into nearly 500,000 rental homes – a move which landlords fear will force them to install heat pumps and critics say will push up rents.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford told the?Weekend Herald?the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment would soon call for feedback on compulsory heating in rental properties. End quote.

So now tenants are not actually responsible for keeping their homes warm? Let’s face it, a house can be insulated and double glazed, but unless there is some heating, it will still be very cold. Quote:

Twyford said the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act, which was passed last December and comes into effect on July 1 next year, would create standards landlords must comply with.

“One of them relates to heating in tenanted premises. The consultation to develop regulations will explore making a fixed form of heating compulsory in rental properties. The other standards relate to insulation, ventilation, moisture control, draught-stopping, and drainage.” End quote.

A fixed form of heating? We know what that means, don’t we? Quote:

However, NZ Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said he expected the new MBIE regulations would demand heat pumps because Labour had campaigned on that. The federation has already expressed concern about the scheme. End quote.

Yes. A fixed form of heating will be required. In other words, it won’t be enough just to go down to The Warehouse and buy a couple of plug-in heaters, or a portable gas heater (although I think they are about to be outlawed in rental properties anyway). Landlords will have to install heat pumps.

I have a story that will make you laugh. Or possibly cry. We own a rental property in the South Island that has a heat pump. Last year, the tenant complained that the house was too cold, and in fact she vacated the property because of it. But before she did, we arranged for the heat pump to be serviced, thinking that it might not have been working efficiently. It turned out that she didn’t use it because she thought they were too expensive to run. Quote:

[Andrew King said] “We don’t want to be dictated to or prescribed to. Installing fixed forms of heating will cost money and put prices up. A lot of properties like apartments don’t suit heat pumps and the body corporate might not allow it, meaning an apartment couldn’t be rented out,” King said. End quote.

Well, yes, heat pumps don’t work everywhere. Access to outside walls and places where the external part of the unit can be installed can present problems, particularly in apartments. But the alternatives are few and far between, and expensive, if a fixed form of heating is mandatory.

Heat pumps aren’t cheap either. An average unit will probably cost about $2000, but that probably will not be enough to heat a whole house. So in some cases, more than one heat pump will have to be installed. Getting expensive now, isn’t it? Quote:

A spokeswoman for Twyford stressed that the fixed form of heating was yet to be defined but was likely to be the best form of heating for the house. “Heating devices would need to meet certain criteria.” End quote.

Really, it will be heat pumps or nothing. We already know that.

If you look at the photo at the top of this article, it tells you several things. First, this is the photo that came with the article in The Herald, but I wanted to use it for several reasons. First, ovens use power. They use more power than most portable heaters. So, it would make sense for the tenant in the picture to nip down to The Warehouse and buy a heater. Secondly, the child that she is cuddling to stop it from freezing to death is scantily clad. He (or she) is wearing a sleeveless t-shirt in the middle of winter.

I realise it is probably just a stock photo, selected by a Herald journalist, but it speaks volumes. Tenants have no idea of how to look after themselves, so the state has to do it. Really.

But just one more thought on this subject, as mentioned earlier. The landlord can install a heat pump in every room of his rental property, but if the tenant won’t pay for the power to run them, they will still freeze to death. Will that be the next stage in the sorry saga of government versus landlords? Free power bills for tenants?