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SocietyFebruary 27, 2018

Renting 101: A complete guide to living as a tenant in New Zealand

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Rent Week 2018: Like all media companies, we spend our days looking at Reddit for things to repost. The difference is that we ask. And so, with the permission of Chelsea S aka /u/PavementFuck, we present Renting 101 – everything you need to know about being a tenant in New Zealand.

Since it’s renting season, I thought I’d pass on a few bits of information I’ve learnt in my short renting experience.

TL;DR: Um, not really sure, maybe read the first sentence in each section?

NLE;WM (Not Long Enough; Want More): Read the Residential Tenancies Act.

1. Professional carpet cleaning clause in tenancy agreements. It is unlawful for the landlord to include a clause stating carpets must be cleaned annually or at the end of the tenancy. Most property management firms include this clause, so if you want the property, you’re free to ignore the clause. Important: If you spill something, or do damage to the carpet that doesn’t come clean with a regular vacuum, the property manager can force you to get it professionally cleaned or repaired. The landlord/property manager can’t demand a receipt as proof, the result is all the evidence they require. They also can’t demand you use a certain company (but they can make a recommendation). That’s dodgy as fuck. Don’t go to the Tenancy Tribunal just for including this clause, only if they try to enforce it, or if you’re going for something else, add exemplary damages for this to your application.

2. Utilities. Utilities (water, power etc) can only be billed to the tenant when it can be exclusively attributable. If you share a power or water connection with another flat, the landlord can’t just split the bill and charge you 50% each, unless there’s a separate sub meter for one of the dwellings. If there’s no sub meter, your landlord has to pay. In Auckland, our water rates bills are split into three parts: a fixed annual charge, a metered water charge, and a percentage of the metered water as waste water charge. Only the latter two charges can be billed to the tenant. You can request a copy of the WaterCare bill and work this out yourself. In this example, only $26.96 is payable by the tenant.

Photo: Phil Walters/Getty Images.

3. Market rent. Landlords can only charge reasonable market rent. This one is a pain because the tenancy tribunal has ruled in different ways. Generally, if you think the rent is much too high for a property, don’t rent it, and don’t put an application in for it either. Landlords have previously used other prospective tenants applications as evidence that they’re charging market rent. If your landlord has decided to put the rent up, and you think it is way too high, you can check here for your suburb, and if it is substantially out of the range specified, you can ask for a review. If your landlord won’t budge, take them to the Tenancy Tribunal.

4. Fixed term tenancies. Long term tenancies only benefit landlords or bad tenants. There is no incentive for a GOOD tenant to accept anything more than a one year fixed term. If you’re clean and tidy, don’t do any damage, and pay rent on time, a good landlord will want to keep you. Getting out of a fixed term tenancy can be really difficult, and sometimes you don’t find out landlords are cunts until it’s too late.

5. Inspections. Not more frequent than 4 weekly, unless it’s a follow up after an unsatisfactory inspection. Most landlord insurance requires a minimum of three-monthly inspections, so they’re not usually doing them that often just for fun. Routine inspections require 48 hours notice, and you can’t refuse them unless you have a good reason (not being there isn’t a good enough reason). Landlords can enter the yard without notice, but they can’t peep through the windows (that’d be a breach of quiet enjoyment).

6. Bonds. No more than 4x weekly rent, which must be lodged with MBIE. If your landlord doesn’t supply a bond lodgement form when you go to sign the tenancy agreement, don’t sign yet. Ask the landlord for one. If they refuse, don’t rent from them, they’re being dodgy. Be careful with your signature on the bond lodgement form, it will need to match exactly with the signature on the bond refund form at the end of the tenancy.

Acknowledgement of bond lodgement is usually via email (depends what’s on the form you sent in), keep this somewhere safe, the lodgement number is important. If your landlord withholds the bond at the end of the tenancy without reason, you can sign the refund form yourself (leave landlord’s part blank), MBIE will then try contact the landlord who has the option to either a) release bond in full, or b) go to the Tenancy Tribunal to claim part of the bond. If the bond was never lodged (and you’re already renting), don’t bother with the Tenancy Tribunal unless they try to keep the bond, debate how much was paid, or you’re going to the Tenancy Tribunal for something else (in which case, add a failure to lodge bond claim). The Tenancy Tribunal HATES landlords that don’t lodge bonds (interest earned on these are what pay their wages), and you’re likely to get up to $1,000 for their fuckup.

7. Issues. Don’t stop paying rent until agreed with the landlord, or ordered by the tenancy tribunal. No matter what the landlord has done wrong, you will also be in the wrong for not paying rent. If there’s a problem, email or call your landlord. If you call, record it with date stamp. If the response is unsatisfactory, issue a 14 day notice to rectify. Keep interactions professional and as friendly as is reasonable. You may want to (or have to) remain their tenant for a while yet, no point shitting on your own Snickers bar.

8. Letting fees. Are a bullshit landlord expense that the current law allows to be passed on to the tenant. This is almost always one week’s rent plus GST (15%). A private landlord can ONLY charge this if they are ordinarily considered a property manager (that means they’d consider property management to be their occupation). A landlord with a single property can’t justify charging a letting fee. Tell them to go jump. If the rental has been empty for a long time, consider asking them to drop the letting fee, the worst thing they can say is no. Don’t bother asking if you’re in Auckland or Wellington though.

9. Tenancy tribunal. ~$25 application fee to go to the Tenancy Tribunal, have evidence or don’t bother. It’s a relatively easy process, you can start everything online, then they will email you asking to go to mediation first (which you can refuse, but it generally makes you look more agreeable if you just do it). Mediation is fucking useless, they can’t make any judgements or rulings, it’s just a conference call with the landlord and mediator. If the landlord offers you exactly what you wanted the Tenancy Trubunal to rule on, and you can’t spare a weekday off work, then take it, otherwise consider taking them all the way to the tribunal, this will ensure their name (and yours) is listed on the orders database, which means everyone can read about what a fuckwit they are. This is the best way to weed out shitty landlords and property managers.

10. Joint and several liability. Thanks /u/anomalousmonist Do not sign a tenancy agreement with other tenants if you don’t know them. I mean really know them. It means that you can be held liable for damage caused your fuckwit flatmates, and their fuckwit friends (where they have been invited by your fuckwit flatmate). It means that, as one of several flatmates, you are severally liable for the full rent. (So it is your problem, not the landlord’s, if someone doesn’t pay their portion of rent into the flat account that week.) It also means if they disappear without signing the bond release form, you’re shit out of luck. Choose your flatmates carefully. Consider a flatmate agreement (written! Always written!) with a single head tenant on the lease. They can be kicked out much easier.

Finding a flat

Student regions and Auckland are super competitive. You may have to apply for dozens of places before you’re accepted.

My tips:

  • Consider writing a Renters CV (one for the whole group). Just a page long explaining who’s in your group, what each of you do, and some evidence that you’re responsible.
  • Don’t turn up at the start time for open viewings. Go a little later when it gets quieter. Speak to the landlord/property manager, you need to make a positive impression. Make them remember you.
  • Have your completed application, written references, proof of contents insurance, Renters CV etc ready to hand over at the viewing. Obviously don’t submit it if you think the place is a dive.
  • Two references minimum. Previous landlord is optimum, if you don’t have one ask your employer, or someone else that knows you in a professional capacity.
  • Use the viewing as an opportunity to interview the property manager/landlord. Bad ones can make your life difficult.
  • Take photos, write down any promises the property manager/landlord is making verbally – these are often later forgotten. Take a screenshot of the online listing.
  • Search the property management company name, property managers personal name, and the landlords name on the tribunal orders database and read up on any cases they’re involved in. The language used in the orders is fairly simple and will give you a good idea of whether they are going to be good to rent from or not. Don’t rent from a landlord/property manager that has rulings against them.

Moving in

Congratulations, you’ve been accepted. Now give us all the money.

  • Maximum sum you can be expected to pay: four weeks rent as bond, one week’s rent + 15 percent as a letting fee, and two weeks rent in advance. You don’t have to pay any more rent until that full two weeks has been used up.
  • More photos. All the damn photos. Every wall, floor, ceiling, surface, garden, lawns. Everything. If there’s any damage, close up photos and get the landlord to sign something declaring it was already there. Most property managers will do a move-in check with you, with a form they complete as they go. Do NOT rely on their photos.
  • Photograph the water meter (the lidded box buried somewhere in the front lawn). If you’re on tank water, check it’s full (to the top, see here.)
  • Store your tenancy documents somewhere safe.
  • Find out who you should contact in case of emergencies (burst pipes etc) outside of office hours. Locking yourself out isn’t an emergency on their part.
A typical Christchurch flat. Photo: Don Rowe.

Moving out

Good riddance, didn’t want you here anyway.

  • Provide the correct notice. Fixed term: advise in writing that you will not be renewing the tenancy at least three weeks before the end of the fixed term end date. You can provide more notice, but your end date won’t be any sooner than your agreed fixed term. Periodic: also three weeks from the date the notice can expect to be received (meaning, give a couple days grace if you’re posting it snail mail stylez).
  • Ask the landlord/property manager to do an exit inspection with you a couple of days before you’re due to move out. Get them to point out anything that’d affect your bond. Fix/clean/remove as necessary.
  • If they won’t inspect until you move out, you need to be your own inspector. You’re aiming for reasonably clean and tidy, and no damage. This is a big clean. Ovens, skirting boards, gardens, windows inside and out, not a single item or piece of rubbish left behind.
  • If there is something you’re unable to fix/clean/remove in time, get some professionals around to quote up the remedy ASAP. This way you’ll know if the LL is overcharging you. You have no right to access the property to remedy (or get your own quotes) once your tenancy has ended.
  • Take more dated photos.
  • Once they’ve done their inspection, they should tell you what’s happening with your bond. If they’re claiming something from the bond, your photos will prove them wrong. If they take too long getting the bond refund form to you (two weeks is too long) then you can download it yourself and complete the tenants information, leaving the LL section blank. MBIE will then contact the landlord who has two options: a) release bond in full, or b) make a claim for some of your bond through a Tenancy Tribunal application.

This section is made possible by Simplicity, the online nonprofit KiwiSaver plan that only charges members what it costs, nothing more. Simplicity is New Zealand’s fastest growing KiwiSaver scheme, saving its 10,500 plus investors more than $3.5 million annually. Simplicity donates 15% of management revenue to charity and has no investments in tobacco, nuclear weapons or landmines. It takes two minutes to join.

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