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SocietyMarch 25, 2017

The more you know: These are your rights and obligations as a flatter and a tenant (and a landlord)


Have a question about renting? The CAB, the independent service which helps the public understand their rights and obligations, is here to help. We asked them for some tips for anyone who rents (or lets) property, and this is what they told us.

Tenancy agreements

A tenancy must be covered by a written tenancy agreement. Read your tenancy agreement before you sign it and seek advice if you aren’t sure (you can check it against MBIE Tenancy Services’ template agreement or contact your local CAB or tenants’ association). Even if you don’t have a written tenancy agreement covering your rental situation you may still be protected under the Residential Tenancy Act.

Landlords aren’t allowed to require you to get the place professionally cleaned at the end of the tenancy. Even if you sign the agreement anyway, that clause is unenforceable. Amateur cleaning is perfectly acceptable.

Make sure you and the landlord do a property inspection together at the start of the tenancy – and take photos of the place while you do.

Ask the landlord whether the “P” has been used or manufactured on the property. The landlord should be checking for this between tenancies.

Are you a tenant or a flatmate?

When you are renting, what your rights and obligations are differs depending on whether your name is on the tenancy agreement.

If your name is on the tenancy agreement then as a tenant your have obligations to your landlord (and vice versa) under tenancy law.

If you aren’t named on the tenancy agreement then you are a flatmate – not a tenant – and your rights and obligations are to the tenant/s. Those rights and obligations should be recorded in a house-sharing agreement. You don’t have rights under the Residential Tenancies Act if you’re just a flatmate.

Bond money

A landlord can ask for a bond that is the equivalent of up to four weeks’ rent. They must pay your bond to Tenancy Services within 23 working days of receiving it.

Alternatively, the tenant can lodge the bond with Tenancy Services online.

At the end of the tenancy, the tenant/s and landlord must sign a bond refund form and sent it to Tenancy Services, before the bond money can be returned (minus any deductions for damage to the rental property). The people who are named on the tenancy agreement are the only ones who can get their bond back from Tenancy Services.

Who pays for the water?

If the property you rent has a separate water meter, the water is supplied on a metered basis and the charges can be exclusively attributed to your living on the property, then you (the tenant) have to pay the water supply bills. Usually you pay the landlord and the landlord pays the water supply company.

Look after your digs

Treat the property with respect. This does include cleaning, vacuuming, and trying not to put holes in the walls.

Also, be nice to your neighbours. If there’s too much late-night noise and generally offensive behaviour coming from your place, their complaints to your landlord could pressure your landlord into asking you to leave.

If it’s broke, tell the landlord

Tell your landlord as soon as possible about any necessary repairs or maintenance. Who pays for the repair depends on who caused the damage.

You have to allow a reasonable amount of time for the repairs to be carried out, but if you think it’s taking far too long you can give your landlord a 14-day notice to remedy.

When the landlord comes a-calling

Your landlord must give 48 hours’ advance notice if they want to inspect the property. If they want to enter to carry out repairs they have to give you at least 24 hours’ notice.

Time to bust a move

Make sure you know whether your tenancy is a periodic or fixed tenancy. If you have a periodic tenancy then you can end the tenancy simply by giving your landlord at least 21 days’ written notice.

Your landlord has to give you 90 days’ written notice if they want you to leave (or 42 days’ notice in certain circumstances, such as a member of the landlord’s family moving in).

If you have a fixed-term tenancy it is a lot harder to leave before the end of the specified term.

Be aware that if your landlord gives you notice to leave and you then decide to leave earlier than that, you will need to give your landlord notice.

If you leave stuff behind when you go, your landlord has to contact you and give you time to retrieve it. If you don’t, the landlord can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for an order allowing them to dispose of those items (including selling them). If they have kept your stuff in storage then they can claim the storage costs from you.

Disputes, disagreements and disagreeableness

The Tenancy Tribunal can settle disputes between landlords and tenants However they can’t help with disputes between flatmates or between a flatmate and a tenant. For these you have to turn to the Disputes Tribunal.

No matter how grumpy you get with your landlord, please don’t stop paying the rent. If you stop paying your rent you’ll be in breach of your tenancy agreement, which could lead to eviction

Do keep copies of all communications with your landlord, even if the tenancy is going swimmingly – just in case.

Know where you can get help

If you aren’t sure about what your rights or obligations are in your particular situation, there are people who can help you for free:

This post is part of Rent Week, a series about why the experience of renting a home in NZ is so terrible, and whether anything can be done to fix it. Read the entire series here.

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