Northland Property Investors' Association


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Landlords' requirements for insulation and smoke alarms

If passed into law, the Residential Amendment Act will create new requirements for insulation and smoke alarms in all residential tenancies.

The changes would require that from 1 July 2016:

  • all rental properties must have smoke alarms

  • all new tenancy agreements must include a statement of the extent and safety of insulation in the property

  • all social houses, where the tenant pays an Income Related Rent, must have underfloor and ceiling insulation meeting the required standard, where it can be practically installed. 

  • from 1 July 2019, all rental properties must have underfloor and ceiling insulation meeting the required standard where it can practically be installed.

    The penalty for not following these new requirements is $3,000

Smoke Alarm requirements

The proposed new smoke alarm standards will require a minimum of one working smoke alarm within three metres of each bedroom door. In a self-contained sleep-out, caravan or similar, a minimum of one working smoke alarm will be required.

In a multi-level unit, there must be a working smoke alarm on each level.

Landlords must ensure that the alarm is operational at the beginning of each new tenancy. After that, the tenant will be responsible for changing batteries during their tenancy.

Smoke alarms must be installed in all residential rental properties by 1 July 2016.

Where there are currently no smoke alarms in a rental property, long-life photoelectric alarms need to be installed. If the rental property is already fitted with smoke alarms, they do not need to be upgraded to the long life photoelectric type. However when they do need replacing they should be replaced with long-life photoelectric alarms.

There must be a minimum of one working smoke alarm in the hall or similar, within three metres of each bedroom and, in a self-contained caravan, sleep out or similar and, in multi-storey units. There needs to be at least one smoke alarm on each level within the household unit.

Discounted smoke alarms that meet the new requirements are available at the NZPIF website for $25 plus $10 freight if purchasing less than 100 at a time.  Those with an NZPIF card need to login here and then click on the sub heading "Smoke Alarms" under the menu heading "Resources".

The rules confirm that it will be the tenants' responsibility to replace smoke alarm batteries. The need for tenants to replace batteries would reduce over time as landlords replace existing alarm types with long life ones. This would help reduce the financial burden on the tenant of replacing batteries.

Insulation requirements

Rental properties that already have insulation installed must be upgraded if the ceiling and underfloor insulation do not meet the R-value levels set out in the table below at the time the insulation was installed.

Level of insulation below which rental properties
must be upgraded (product R-values)

Timber-framed minimum

Masonry minimum

Ceiling                R 1.9

Underfloor           R 0.9

Ceiling            R 1.5

Underfloor       R 0.9


These levels approximate the requirements for new properties built between 1978 and 2001 (NZS4218P:1977).

For existing insulation, guidance will be provided from MBIE who will set out a simple test for landlords and tenants, including the requirements that insulation should be dry and in reasonable condition with no gaps.

If the insulation has become very compressed, is damp, damaged or is incomplete, it must be upgraded to meet the current insulation standards shown in the table below.

Minimum new and topped up insulation requirements for rented homes (product R-values)

Zones 1 and 2

Zone 3

Ceiling                R 2.9

Underfloor           R 1.3

Ceiling            R 3.3

Underfloor       R 1.3

All rental properties that currently have no insulation in ceilings and underfloor, must have new insulation installed to levels that have been set to approximate the current Building Code requirements for new homes. These are shown above.

There will be a two-stage approach for landlords to implement the insulation requirements. Social housing providers (Housing New Zealand or community housing provider homes) must meet insulation requirements by 1 July 2016.

Private residential rental properties, including boarding houses, must meet the requirements by 1 July 2019.

For a new tenancy commencing after 1 July 2016 where a tenant pays an income related rent, a landlord would have 90 days from the commencement of the tenancy to retrofit insulation.

To help ensure that insulation is properly installed, new installations of insulation will need to comply with the existing voluntary insulation installation standard, NZS4246.

These standards 1. cover most housing designs and construction types and most insulation products; 2. better define good post-installation labelling practice so it is clear what levels of insulation have been installed; 3. provide hazard management/risk identification processes for the people undertaking the work to follow; and, 4. provide specific guidance on protecting the health and safety of the installer.

The regulations will permit insulation top-ups over existing ceiling installations where the total R-value of the existing and new insulation combined would meet the new performance requirements.

MBIE advises "that decisions on when top-ups are appropriate may require professional judgement. You can find the requirements of insulation standard here: NZS4246. Do-it-yourself landlords who are unsure about how to meet the thermal requirements may wish to seek professional advice. This advice would include discussions of options such as top-ups of insulation".

Landlords are able to install their insulation themselves. However MBIE says that they could face insurance and liability consequences for faulty or negligent installation if they install the insulation incorrectly. MBIE recommends that landlords refer to NZS4246 and/or consider hiring professional installers, as this is likely to reduce health, safety and quality assurance risks.

Landlords are responsible for the costs of insulating their rental properties. If they increase the rent to compensate, they must comply with the Residential Tenancies Act, and give 60 days' written notice of the increase.

There are three categories of residential rental properties that are excluded from the insulation requirements in the regulations:

  1. where it is not practical to retrofit insulation because of the physical design or construction of the property, but only until such time as access to these spaces becomes possible; (Ceiling insulation will have to cover all applicable habitable spaces i.e. spaces used for daily activities. A suspended floor must have underfloor insulation in reasonable condition covering all applicable habitable spaces. However it may not always be practical to retrofit insulation in all habitable places. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority provides guidance on what it considers to be ‘practical’. It includes: minimum clearance space, size of the access hole, and type of roof.)

  2. where, within 12 months of the commencement of a tenancy, the landlord intends to demolish or substantially rebuild all or part of the property, and can provide evidence of having applied for the necessary resource consent and/or building consent for the redevelopment or building work;

  3. where a property is purchased and immediately rented back to the former owner-occupier, in which case a 12 month exemption will apply from the date of purchase.

Banning foil insulation.

Many submitters to the Select Committee raised  concerns about the safety risks of retrofitting electrically conductive foil insulation under floors. To address this issue, MBIE’s Chief Executive is considering using his powers, under section 26 of the Building Act 2004, to declare a ban on the installation of conductive insulation materials in residential properties.

The scope of this ban would be limited to “installing conductive insulation into a residential property with an existing electrical installation”. This would be the first use of this power under the Building Act and would require MBIE to undertake public consultation.


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