Landlords are required to provide tenants with a safe and healthy home. To achieve this, they need to meet requirements set out by various laws and bylaws.

The Residential Tenancies Act 1986

The Residential Tenancies Act 1986 requires landlords to provide and maintain rental properties in a reasonable state of repair. What’s considered ‘reasonable’ depends on the age and character of the property and how long it’s likely to remain habitable and available to be lived in.

The Act also requires landlords to provide properties in a reasonable state of cleanliness.

The Act does not directly regulate the standard of rental properties. However, it reinforces that landlords ‘comply with all requirements in respect of buildings, health, and safety under any enactment so far as they apply to the premises’.

In practice, this means landlords need to be broadly aware of health-related and safety-related requirements in the following laws:

  • Building Act 2004 and the Building Code
  • Health Act 1956
  • Housing Improvement Regulations and bylaws made under the Local Government Act 2002. These are set by individual councils.

Housing Improvement Regulations 1947

The Housing Improvement Regulations create minimum requirements that housing must meet. Local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of these regulations within their districts. The premises must comply with each of these requirements unless it complied with an equivalent requirement the Building Code at the time it was built.

The purpose of the Housing Improvement Regulations is to ensure that properties are warm, dry, safe and sanitary.

The regulations include provisions for:

Room size, function and safety

Each property must have:

  • A room that can be used as a kitchen or kitchenette with a sink and tap connected to useable water
  • A bathroom with a shower or bath and running hot water
  • A toilet (inside or outside the property) for the exclusive use of those that live in the property
  • Provision for the washing of clothes (if the house is intended for the use of 2 people or more)

There are also minimum size requirements depending on how the property is set out. The New Zealand legislation website has this information on sizes set out in clauses:

The exterior of the house must be weatherproof. The landlord is responsible for maintaining it in that condition.

The walls and floors need to be lined, and the floors need to be washable and durable.

The rental property must be maintained in a reasonable state of repair. Where the property shares common facilities with another property, like a shared laundry, the owner must keep it in a reasonable state of repair.

Where there are staircases between floors, they must allow safe access from one level to another and have a handrail.

The Building Act and/or Code may impose greater requirements on premises if the property was built after 1978.

Light, ventilation, drainage and dampness

Bathrooms and toilet rooms must have a window or other adequate means of ventilation.

Every habitable room must have windows or other way of letting in light and ventilation

Where the floor is made of timber, there must be adequate space and ventilation underneath it to prevent it from dampness and decay.

Every habitable room, kitchen or kitchenette, bathroom, toilet, hallway and stairway must have artificial lighting.

There must be drainage in the property to remove storm water, surface water and ground water. Every house must have gutters, downpipes and drains to remove roof water. The landlord is responsible for cleaning and maintaining these.

Overcrowding

Landlords must ensure that the house does not become overcrowded by complying with the Housing Improvement Regulations (external link) and local council bylaws, such as:

  • ensuring that there are the required facilities for the number of people occupying the house, such as the number of bathrooms and toilets
  • the minimum size of bedrooms: generally a bedroom must be at least 6 square metres. If there is more than one person sleeping in the room it will need to be bigger
  • the number of adults and children (excluding those under 1 year of age) that can occupy the bedroom depending on the floor area.

A property should not be advertised or let as having a certain number of bedrooms if the rooms are not compliant with the Regulations. The landlord and tenants must ensure that the number of occupants of each bedroom does not exceed the number allowed under the Regulations.

For further information about overcrowding contact your local council.

Sewerage and sanitation

Every toilet and sink must be connected to an adequate sewerage system or other means of disposal. Where a wastage system is provided by a landlord, the landlord must maintain it (e.g. empty the septic tank).

Heating

Housing Improvement Regulations requires that every living room have an approved form of heating.

The definition of ‘approved form of heating’ may differ between councils around the country.

Contact your local Council to get advice about approved forms of heating.

Clean effective forms of heating include some heat pumps, modern wood or wood pellet burners and flued gas heaters.

Landlords are responsible for maintaining any heating and ventilation provided in their rental property. If there’s a useable fireplace, the chimney or flue needs to be regularly cleaned (check your insurance policy). Landlords are also responsible for servicing ducted heating and ventilation systems.

The Building Act 2004 and the Building Code

The usual legal starting points for a rental property to be healthy and safe are the Building Act 2004 and the Building Code. These apply to new building work and don’t affect existing buildings unless they’re renovated, altered or change use.

Rental homes have no special provisions in either the Act or the Code. So rental homes must meet the normal performance requirements of dwelling houses.

The Building Act 2004

The Building Act governs the construction of new buildings and the alteration and demolition of existing buildings. 

The purpose of the Act is to make sure buildings are safe and healthy, that people can escape from them if there’s a fire, and that they promote sustainable development. The Act also promotes compliance with the Building Code.

The Building Code

The Building Code sets out performance standards for work on all types of buildings. It covers things like structural stability, fire safety, access, moisture control, durability, services and facilities.

The Code is performance-based. Rather than telling people exactly how to build, it sets out objectives to be achieved. For example, one objective is to ‘safeguard people from illness or injury which could result from external moisture entering the building’ – that is, buildings must be weathertight.

The Code does not set out construction methods. It describes how a building must perform, rather than how it must be designed and constructed. Local authorities are mainly responsible for ensuring compliance with the Code.

Local councils must have policies to ensure safe and healthy buildings

The Building Act requires local councils to have policies on dangerous and unsanitary buildings. These allow them to take action against owners of such buildings, no matter when they were built.

Buildings are considered dangerous if they’re likely to cause injury, death or damage to other properties.

Buildings are considered unsanitary if they:

  • are offensive or likely to be harmful to health
  • don’t have enough protection against moisture
  • don’t have an adequate supply of drinkable water, or
  • don’t have adequate sanitary facilities (such as a toilet or shower).

The Tenancy Tribunal can help if houses are not safe and healthy

A tenant can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for a work order or other type of order if a landlord won’t meet their responsibilities for providing a safe and healthy home.

Where the rental cannot lawfully be used for residential purposes a tenant may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for rent to be repaid to them because the landlord has received rent that is not lawfully recoverable under the Act.

Rentals that cannot be lawfully used for residential purposes could include illegally converted garages, unconsented dwellings and commercial properties used for residential use.

Tenancy Tribunal has more about the Tribunal process.

WorkSafe has more information on health and safety obligations for landlords (external link)