Tenants may be the cause of cold houses

State houses

Someone has finally said what many of us already know, particularly those who now are, or have been, landlords. It may not be the landlord, or the house, that causes rental houses to be cold. Maybe, just maybe, it is the way tenants live in them.

Stuff reports: quote.

Economic consultancy NZIER provided the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development with a?cost-benefit analysis as part of its consultation work?to develop standards to underpin the new?Healthy Homes legislation.

But now economist Ian Harrison, of Tailrisk Economics, said that analysis painted too rosy a picture of what could be achieved.

He said, while it was commonly claimed that New Zealand houses were “cold and damp”, there was no clear evidence of a widespread problem.

Only 2.7 per cent of tenants claimed cold and dampness was an issue in their homes in a 2017 Branz report.

“Most houses will be cold and damp if the tenant does not adequately heat and ventilate the property,” Harrison said.

He redid the cost-benefit analysis, and found that if insulation were topped up to the highest of the standards proposed, there would only be 39 cent in benefit for every $1 spent ??or a loss of 61c.

The net cost to the country would be $270 million. end quote.

I once had a tenant who claimed the house was too cold, and in fact, she moved on because of it. It turned out she wouldn’t use the heat pump because she was afraid it would be too expensive. quote.

The NZIER research had estimated a benefit of $1.51 for every $1 spent.

Harrison also assessed that adding a heating requirement for living rooms would have a benefit of just 38c for every $1 spent ??or a loss of 62 ??and a net cost of $418m.

All up, he said imposing the Healthy Homes Guarantee proposals could leave New Zealanders out of pocket by between $1 billion and $2b.

But Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said most people understood the health effects of cold, damp homes, particularly on children and the elderly.

“Around 40,000 children a year are hospitalised with housing-related respiratory and infectious diseases and about 1600 people die prematurely every winter. I am confident that the Health Homes standards, designed to make all rentals warm and dry, will be based on credible evidence from both New Zealand and aboard.” end quote.

Yes, but even a well-insulated house will be cold if no heating is used. Children who are inadequately dressed will also suffer, even in a well-insulated house. There needs to be some common sense applied here. Many children end up in the hospital with respiratory diseases through poor parental care; this does not necessarily have anything to do with insulation. quote.

Harrison also took issue with the suggestion that the World Health Organisation recommended a minimum indoor temperature of 18 degrees Celcius.

He said whether 18C was right would depend on the house and its inhabitants.

“Thermal discomfort, of course will depend on how much clothing a person is wearing. A person may be uncomfortable wearing a T-shirt and shorts at 16 degrees, but perfectly comfortable when wearing more suitable clothes and if they are active. It is not useful to say that a house is unhealthy because a person has neglected to dress appropriately, and can easily remedy the situation.” end quote.

In other words, landlords are being forced to spend millions of dollars on insulation that may make no difference to the warmth of their houses if the tenants do not act sensibly, use heating and dress appropriately.

Time and time again, I have seen pictures of families complaining about the cold and damp in their homes, while they sit on the couch in shorts and T-shirts. So I am glad someone has finally come out and said what is obvious to many. Personal responsibility plays a part in all of these things.

I am not saying that insulation is a bad thing. Far from it. I am saying that forcing landlords to insulate all their houses by a certain deadline may not generate the health improvements the government expects. When children are still being hospitalised in 2020 with ‘housing-related respiratory and infectious diseases’ – what then? We all know it will happen.

Even a damp, draughty house can be made reasonably habitable if the tenant has a mind to make it so. What we have nowadays is a raft of tenants who expect to have everything done for them when a little bit of personal responsibility would go a long way.