RESOURCES: A holiday home owner’s guide to health and safety

As a bach owner, you have to comply with five different Acts relating to health and safety. We read the Acts – so you don’t have to – and summarises the main points...

Photo credit: Christchurch City Council

  • Created: 21-Feb-2011
  • Updated: 12-Jun-2014

Having a healthy, safe bach is important for your own family as well as tenants. The good news is that most bach owners will comply with the relevant laws already. But it’s worth knowing the details to avoid injuries to people renting your property.

It’s one thing to know that your property is safe for your family and friends; it’s another to extend this to larger groups, and people who aren’t familiar with the house.

Take decks. You may have small children who know what to do and what not to do around a potentially unsafe railing (for example, one that a child can drag a chair over to, and climb onto). But bring other children into the mix who are not under your watchful eye, and it’s an entirely different situation.

There’s also the issue of capacity. You may have a family of four that fits comfortably into your bach. However the house potentially accommodates 10 people and if you’re going to rent it to a group of that size, you need to make sure there are adequate exits and entrances in case of an emergency, that a deck’s design capacity can cope with that number of people, and that there are no risks that you know of, but your guests may not be aware of. Remember, too, that even if you don’t allow your guests to have visitors at the property, those 10 could swell to larger groups, stretching the capacity of the property to breaking point – literally.

It’s also important to contact your local authority to see if there are any health and safety regulations or by-laws made under the Local Government Act 2002 that you need to comply with. Owners of properties in Queenstown, for example, need to provide Type 1 domestic smoke alarms located within the escape routes and test them monthly and they’re limited to two adults per bedroom. 

Unless you’re building a new bach the biggest concern for bach owners who want to stay within the law are the Housing Improvement Regulations, the Health Act, and the provisions in the Building Act relating to dangerous and insanitary buildings.

If you sometimes let your bach to large groups you need to be aware of the overcrowding runs in the Housing Improvement Regulations. The rules say there must be one bathroom and toilet for every 10 people who stay at your property. If you break these regulations the fines are $40 plus $10 a day.

And finally, if you’re renting out your property, consider taking out public liability insurance on top of your home and contents insurance.

Top 10 Safety Issues

We’ve identified the top 10 safety issues that bach owners and property managers face:

  1. Decks
  2. Ranch Sliders
  3. Swimming pools and spas
  4. Smoke and fire alarms
  5. Building code compliance
  6. Fireguards
  7. Lifejackets
  8. Chemicals and poisons
  9. Gas bottles
  10. Matches and candles

Decks

A deck that’s more than one metre off the ground must have a balustrade or safety barrier of at least one metre high.  Make sure that there’s no place on the barrier where a child can get a foothold between the heights of 15cm and 76cm

Decks must comply with the building code. If you plan to rent to groups, make sure you have a permanent, clearly visible sign stating the deck’s maximum design capacity. If you’re not sure, don’t rent to groups.

Ranch sliders

Since 1993 the Building Code has required the use of tempered rather than annealed glass in areas like ranch sliders and floor-to-ceiling windows.  Tempered glass is much stronger than annealed glass and if it does break, the whole pane shatters into small, blunt pieces which are less likely to cause injury.

If you have annealed glass add a vision strip or a frosted or opaque line.  If annealed glass breaks, replace it with tempered glass.

Swimming pools and spas

Under the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 any pool over 400mm deep, including spas and inflatable pools, must be enclosed by a fence of at least 1.2 metres high. The fence must only enclose the immediate pool area and any door or gate in the fence must also comply with the Act.

Spa pool covers are not considered safety barriers; your spa may also have to be fenced. Check with your council.

Don’t leave anything that children can use as ladders near a swimming pool fence.

Smoke and fire alarms

Make sure all smoke alarms have working batteries and have been tested in the past three months. See the Fire Service’s website for instructions on where and how to install smoke detectors.

Fire extinguishers should be wall mounted, out of reach of children, and ideally should be in or near the kitchen, but not too close to the stove.

Consider displaying a fire evacuation plan in a prominent place. Even if it’s a single-storey house, it’s worth pointing out all the entrances and exits to your visitors.

Building compliance

bach owners must comply with the Building Act 2004 and the Building Code. 

The 308-page Building Act covers the construction of new buildings, alteration and demolition of existing buildings. The Building Code sets out minimum performance standards for building work on all types of buildings. Although the majority of the Building Act applies to new building work, renovations, alterations and change of use, there are some important points for bach owners. That’s because it requires territorial authorities to adopt policies regarding “insanitary” or “dangerous” buildings and enables them to take action against owners regardless of when they were built.

Having an “insanitary” bach can prove expensive with fines of up to $200,000 plus $20,000 a day in the Building Act for “using a building in a use for which it is not sanitary”.

A bach would be considered dangerous if there was something likely to cause injury, death, or damage to other properties and insanitary if they are offensive or likely to be injurious to health. Examples of this may be (leaky) buildings that allow moisture penetration or ones that don’t have an adequate supply of drinking water, or inadequate sanitary facilities. 

The Building Amendment Act 2010 has speeded up the process of gaining consent but hasn’t removed the need to comply with building regulations.

Fireguards

If your bach has a working fireplace of any sort, it needs a fireguard, and one that’s suited to the type of fireplace; ie, an open fire requires one type of guard, a free-standing wood burner another.

Lifejackets

It’s great providing kayaks and boats for your guests, but you need to check them regularly to ensure they’re safe and seaworthy and you need to supply lifejackets.

See Maritime New Zealand’s safety guidelines for paddle craft rental activities and the Sea Kayak Operators’ Association of New Zealand’s safety codefor details.

The legal requirements for paddle craft are different when you’re providing craft, but not supervising the people using them.

Chemicals and poisons

Your own children might know not to touch household cleaners, pool chemicals and the like, but visitors to the house may not have that knowledge. Keep all potential poisons out of sight and out of reach – under lock and key, if possible.

Gas BBQs

Check gas bottles for gas levels. Gas bottles have a use-by date, and should be disposed of once they’re past it.

Matches and candles

Like chemicals, matches should be stowed safely out of children’s way, and if you provide candles, make sure there are candlesticks to put them in.

More info

Building Act
Maritime New Zealand
Sea Kayak Operators’ Association of NZ
Fire Service

Under the Health Act bach owners must comply with:

  • The nuisance provisions: which include allowing the premises "to be likely to be injurious to the health of the occupants". No specific meaning of "nuisance" is given in the act. But it could be, for example, the keeping of animal carcasses and the burning of any waste material, or rubbish related to a business. You could even be prosecuted for "any condition giving rise or capable of giving rise to the breeding of flies or mosquitoes…."
  • Sanitary and water supply provisions: requiring adequate and convenient supply of water, sanitary disposal of waste water and sufficient toilets for occupants. As well as one-off fines, owners can be fined $50 a day until the requirement is complied with.
  • Cleansing orders: if ordered to by a local authority – and you wouldn't be the first landlord ordered to spend thousands of dollars cleaning up after your property was used as a P-lab.
  • Repair notices and closing orders: where your property is viewed as insanitary or likely to cause injury.