A 'decent home' is habitable

Housing habitability is about how well a home provides a safe, secure, and healthy environment to live in.

Housing must provide for adequate space and protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, structural hazards, disease and other threats to health. It should provide protection from, and mitigate, climate change. Housing habitability is important because the condition of a home has direct impacts on the health, wellbeing, and welfare of its occupants.

From the many aspects of housing habitability, we have chosen three indicators - rates of damp and mould, household crowding, and cold - to show habitability trends in New Zealand.

These indicators show that overall housing habitability isn’t getting worse in New Zealand, but it hasn’t significantly improved yet either.

Indicator 1: Dampness and mould

Dampness and mould are a common problem in New Zealand homes. About twenty percent of households self-reported problems with dampness or mould in 2020, but rental households have significantly worse problems than homeowners.


Graph showing proportion of households with a problem with dampness or mould in the Year ended June 2013 - 2021

Vulnerable populations are particularly at risk, with rental households twice as likely as homeowners to experience problems with dampness and mould.

Rates of damp and mould, as measured in the Household Economic Survey, show signs of improvement since the start of the series in 2012. Between the most recent surveys, improvements were driven by a reduction in the proportion of rented households having a problem with damp or mould, while the proportion for owner occupied homes was relatively unchanged.

Despite these small improvements, the proportion of households facing dampness and mould shows that more work is needed to meet human rights obligations regarding housing habitability.

Indicator 2: Household crowding

While the percentage of people living in crowded households fell through the 1980s and 1990s it has remained largely static since the turn of the century.  The results also show that Pacific peoples are over-represented in crowded households, and the gap is not closing at an acceptable rate.

Progress on the right to a decent home should focus on addressing such inequities to reduce the gaps for groups that are over-represented in crowded housing. Cultural preferences for multi-generational living need to be accommodated in the size and availability of suitable homes that can meet these needs. If the lack of suitable housing means families are having to live in crowded homes, this affects their habitability and is also a failure of cultural adequacy.

Graph showing proportion of people living in crowded households by selected ethnicity group 1986 - 2018 Census  crowding

Indicator 3: Cold

The proportion of people living in homes that were colder than people would have liked has remained unchanged since data collection began in 2014, for both rented and owned homes.

Graph showing Proportion of people whose home was colder than they would like in winter by tenure, 2014 - 2018

General Social Survey results show that the burden of cold housing is not spread equally. In 2018, renters, Pacific peoples, Māori, the unemployed, one parent families, and disabled people, were groups among the most likely to say their dwelling was always or often cold in winter.  Almost half of people renting from Kainga Ora said their home was always or often colder than they would like in winter.

Cold houses not only affect enjoyment of the right to a decent home, they also affect the right to health protection and wellbeing.

More progress is needed to reduce the proportion of people living in cold homes to meet the requirements of progressive realisation of the right to a decent home in New Zealand.


Graph showing proportion of people whose homes were colder than they would like in winter by selected demographic groups, 2018


Read the full commentary about a Habitable Home here.