Healthy and warm rentals: An owner and tenant team effort

As a side conversation from the topical subject of the housing market, the media are putting a lot of attention on the rental properties, and in many cases focusing on the condition of these properties. A good story of course highlights the worst of the stock, which are usually mouldy, damp, cold and poorly kept.

Of course, there are plenty of these rental properties out there, and no good property manager would go near these ones, but what is interesting is that a recent survey showed tenants tend to perceive the quality of their rental property far lower than its actual assessed quality.  

The figures show that 30% of tenants view the condition of their rental as average, and 9% viewed as poor, despite the assessor’s results showing the actual condition ratings of homes to be 49% moderate, 45% good and 6% excellent.

The question needs to be asked – who’s responsibility is it to maintain the quality (eg. the health) of the house? The people living in it, or the people who own it? It’s my view that if it’s a team effort, not only will it make for a healthier home, but a healthy tenant-landlord relationship as well.

The role of the property owner

Ultimately the role of the property owner is to ensure their investment maintains, if not increases, its value.

1.     Comply with legislated standards: It’s going to be a cost initially, but from July 2019 if you don’t have insulation in ceilings and underfloor, where it can be reasonably installed, you’re not compliant with the insulation requirements and could be fined up to $4,000. In the meantime, it’s compulsory to disclose whether there is insulation in the rental, where it is, and what type and what condition it’s in, so that tenants can make informed decisions. We use an independent contractor to assess the insulation and provide this information in our tenancy agreements on behalf of property owners. This way we can ensure its accurate and it’s much safer for them to do it.

2.     Take action fast: If your tenants tell you there is mould forming or there are dampness issues, and you’re confident they’re doing everything possible, within reason, to rectify the problem themselves then take action to prevent it getting worse. It may be the case that the ceilings are too high and they cannot safely clean mould or condensation, or that the fan isn’t working in a windowless bathroom.

3.     Hire a property manager: A property manager will be the first point contact for the tenants, and is ideal if you feel you cannot always be around to maintain the property or if you own multiple properties. If there are any maintenance requirements a property manager will give you piece of mind, knowing that everything is being dealt with using trusted service providers. A property manager will also perform regular inspections to ensure the dampness or mould is being prevented.

The tenant’s responsibilities

The person who lives in the property also has responsibilities to ensure the property is well-treated. As soon as you move in, it is your role to keep the place in a clean and tidy condition that doesn’t encourage mould and dampness.

1.     Do your due-diligence: As mentioned above, the landlord (or property manager) is now required to disclose the insulation information in the tenancy agreement, but other than that it’s up to you to check you’re happy with the extent of the insulation in the property. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment recommends checking by “looking into accessible roof and/or subfloor spaces – but be careful not to touch any foil insulation or exposed wires.” You should also consider how the property will perform in the cold depths of winter.

2.     Do everything you can to ventilate the property: Such as opening windows and doors to create airflow, investing in a dehumidifier to reduce condensation, leaving wardrobes slightly open to breathe, keeping lids on pots when cooking and hanging washing outside. A property manager will usually look for signs of dampness during regular inspections so they can help you to address these problems early.

3.     Communicate issues with landlord or property manager quickly: If you are doing everything you can to prevent dampness, mould and musty smells, but there is still an issue then you need to communicate this with your landlord as quickly as possible. They are not living in the property, so they are not in a position to know how these issues develop overtime.

4.     Find a rental with a property manager. If you are concerned about damp or cold homes and are deciding between a property with a property owner landlord vs a property manager, then invest in the letting fee (if there is one) and go with the property manager. It’s more likely that the property will be regularly and properly  maintained, and meets a higher standard, as it’s a property managers job to maintain the value of the investment on behalf of their landlord customer.

If you are unsure on how to get rid of mould, or reduce the risk of encouraging mould, then visit the Tenancy Services website for helpful information. Otherwise, get in contact with your landlord/property manager as soon as possible to find a solution.

Opening up the dialogue between tenants and property managers/landlords regarding property issues such as dampness and mould is just one of the ways to improve the health of the place you’re living. Look after your property – whether you are a property owner or tenant.

Nick Phillips