Photo: Archi Banal
Photo: Archi Banal

SocietySeptember 29, 2022

Renting 101: What are my rights as a tenant in 2022? 

Photo: Archi Banal
Photo: Archi Banal

Can I be kicked out for no reason? Can I hang pictures on the wall? It’s time for a refresher of renting rights, rules and regulations.

Renting standards have improved somewhat over the past few years, with the introduction of new regulations that have made it harder for tenants to be unceremoniously dumped out onto the street and easier to ensure they live in a house that’s warm, dry and healthy. That’s not to say that renting in Aotearoa is a walk in the park. For Rent Week on The Spinoff, we’ve published a number of stories that have showcased the reality of renting, even with new rules meant to make things better.

We’ve heard how renters are routinely asked to provide information above and beyond what’s required when applying for a property and we’ve taken a tour through some of the most “cursed” rentals of New Zealand. We’ve also published photos of some truly unholy indoor mushroom gardens

Rent Week has reminded me, and likely you, just how confusing renting can be in New Zealand. So here, I attempt to answer some of the questions you might have about your rights as a tenant (or landlord) in 2022 – whether you’re moving into your first flat or just need a refresher.

Let’s start at the beginning: where can I find my rights?

The nitty gritty can be found in the legislation, namely the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. The overall law may be from the mid-80s but it’s been updated several times, most recently in 2020, to ensure that it remains fit for purpose.

If you don’t want to dig through pages of legal documentation, you can find a lot of good – and easily understandable – information on the government’s Tenancy Services website.

What if I’m a landlord?

Lucky you, thanks for bringing it up. The same legislation applies.

Why did the law get updated in 2020?

The government said it wanted to ensure good faith relationships between tenants and landlords, guaranteeing that property owners were still protected while those living in the properties received fair treatment. 

Cool. But what does that all mean? 

For starters, the government removed the ability for no-cause terminations on periodic tenancy agreements. That means that if you are on a periodic tenancy your landlord must provide a valid reason should they wish to terminate the tenancy. In most cases you will be given 90 days to vacate the property, though in selected circumstances – like if the landlord wishes to move back into the rental property themselves – you will have 63 days to leave. It is no longer acceptable for you to be kicked out of a periodic tenancy for no explicit reason or with little warning.

Landlords, you don’t need to worry either: you can still cast out any unruly tenants. For instance, landlords will still be able to terminate tenancies for a range of “fair and justified” reasons, such as antisocial behaviour. They could also kick someone out for being at least three weeks behind in rent.

Speaking of rent… how often can it be increased? Is there a limit to how much it can rise?

Your rent can only be increased once every 12 months (previously it was once every six months). This takes effect from the day you move into your property, not the start of the calendar year. You’ll get at least 60 days notice of a rent increase, too. There are no limits on how much your rent can be increased. Often, though definitely not always, increases are in line with the wider housing market.

Upward and downward forces in the rental market are working in renters’ favour (Photo: Getty Images; additional design: Tina Tiller)

I want to hang up a snazzy gallery wall in my lounge. Can my landlord stop me?

No – at least not in most circumstances. Under the current legislation, tenants are permitted to make minor changes so long as they are able to be substantially returned to the same condition when the property is vacated. That means you should almost always be able to hang up pictures and mirrors, or install baby-proofing equipment, without issue. It’s worth asking your landlord first, but if they refuse your request you’ll be able to push back (unless you’re asking to knock down a wall or something).

Push back? How?

First thing is always to raise your concerns directly with the landlord or property manager. Often a simple email explaining the issue will be enough to work out a suitable solution. If you can’t reach a resolution diplomatically, the Tenancy Tribunal is always an option.

Speaking of touchy topics: do I have to have my carpet professionally cleaned before moving out?

No! A lot of rental contracts will include this, but you do not (I repeat: do not) have to follow through. The legal requirement is just to leave the property in a reasonably clean and tidy condition. Of course, if you’ve left a massive dirty stain on the carpet, getting a professional clean will likely be a good move unless you want a big bill. You can find more examples of commonly requested, but unenforceable, contract clauses on the Tenancy Services website.

For more on what “reasonably clean and tidy” means – and how some landlords are taking the piss – check out the latest Side Eye by Toby Morris.

Cleaning a rental to a spotless level in the hopes of getting your bond back is a familiar feeling for renters – but are landlords expecting unfair standards? (Image: Toby Morris)

How often can my flat be inspected?

This is another oft-abused renting area, so here is all you need to know. The maximum frequency for inspections is once every four weeks and these must take place during regular daylight hours (8am to 7pm). A bit like when you’re waiting for a plumber, you often won’t know when exactly your landlord is going to turn up on the day but they must provide at least 48 hours notice.

Let’s take a step back: What are my rights when applying for a property? What do I have to reveal?

Great question – and one we’ve tackled on The Spinoff this week. As Chris Schulz wrote, landlords are allowed to question you on things like pets, lawn mowing and bond payments – but they’re not allowed to ask you about your race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship status, disabilities, age, political views or your employment status.

One thing that’s also prohibited, but which may surprise you if you’ve applied for a rental before: hopeful tenants cannot be asked to provide copies of bank statements.

Surely these days it’s easy to find a pet-friendly rental?

As Charlotte Muru-Lanning wrote for The Spinoff, recent law changes sadly haven’t made it any easier for pet owners to find a rental property. In short, the government thought the subject was too contentious to amend. Some rentals will allow pets, but you’ll need to check with the landlord first.

Rent Week 2022 runs from September 27 to October 2. Read the best of our renting coverage here.

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