Know your rights as a tenant
Crockers | Reading Time: 5 Minutes | September 2019
What are your rights as a tenant?
All landlords and tenants in NZ have rights and responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).
As a tenant it is important that you are aware of what these are before signing a Tenancy Agreement to rent a property, as it is a legal contract.
The Act covers rights for both renters and landlords, but at 199 pages long it can get overwhelming!
This article will explain what your basic rights are as a tenant, who is responsible for what, and what to do if there is a disagreement.
What does the RTA cover?
The RTA governs all the main aspects of being a landlord or tenant.
Each part is enforced through the Tenancy Tribunal.
Some of the key coverage areas that will affect you as a tenant are:
- Rules on how much rent in advance and bond the landlord can legally request.
- When and how rent increases can be done.
- Types of tenancy (periodic or fixed term).
- What can and can’t be included in Tenancy Agreements.
- When inspections or property visits can be done by the landlord or their representative.
- What documentation and notifications the landlord is required to supply to you either at the start or during the tenancy.
- The landlord’s obligations in respect of smoke alarms, Healthy Homes Standards and Insurance disclosure.
It also covers what your responsibilities are while you rent the property.
Landlord and Tenant responsibilities according to the RTA
When you rent a property, the landlord has to ensure that they meet their obligations under the RTA. As an overview, the landlord must:
- Make sure the property is in a reasonable condition and keep it maintained.
- Let the tenant have quiet enjoyment of the property including serving the correct notice if they intend to visit or inspect the property.
- Meet all relevant building regulation, health and safety standards or certifications.
- Notify the tenant if the property is for sale.
- Appoint a representative if they are out of New Zealand for more than 21 days.
- Apply the correct notice period and notification if they intend to increase the rent or end the Tenancy.
- Meet their obligations around insurance and Healthy Homes Standards.
And they can’t:
- Take a tenant’s belongings for any reason
- Interfere with the supply of any services to the premises, unless needed to address a health and safety issue or while under repair.
While renting, you as the tenant also have responsibilities governed by the RTA.
In brief, tenants must:
- Pay the rent on time and as noted on the tenancy agreement
- Keep the property reasonably clean and tidy
- Let the landlord know straight away about any damage or maintenance required
- Pay for their own outgoing e.g., electricity, gas and internet (unless the tenancy agreement specifically includes any of these items)
- Leave the property clean, tidy, and clear of rubbish and possessions
- Leave all keys with the landlord when they move out
- Leave all items that were supplied with the tenancy.
Tenants must not:
- Stop paying rent if the landlord hasn’t done repairs
- Damage the premises
- Disturb the neighbours or the landlord’s other tenants
- Make any alterations to the property without the landlord’s written consent
- Use the property for any unlawful purpose
- Have more than the maximum number of occupants listed in the tenancy agreement.
What can be done ‘by agreement’?
Most aspects of the RTA are very black and white.
However, the landlord can establish some things “by agreement”
These are things that are not covered specifically in the RTA, and they must be put in writing.
Often this is done at the beginning of the tenancy as part of the tenancy agreement that both landlord and tenant will sign. It’s important to note that nothing can be ‘agreed’ that is outside of the stipulations of the RTA.
For example, tenants must leave the property clean and tidy when they vacate. There is nothing in the RTA that states a tenant must professionally clean the carpet when they vacate (except if this is a condition of having a pet at the property).
If the carpet is left reasonably clean and tidy, that is enough.
Some examples of what can be negotiated and locked in by agreement are:
- If the rent is separate to or will include things like water or power consumption.
- Who will be responsible for mowing lawns or keeping gardens tidy (landlords are responsible for large bush/tree maintenance under the RTA).
- Whether a pet will be allowed at the property and under what conditions.
- The number of people allowed to live at the property.
What if there are problems?
The RTA also stipulates what actions have to be taken if a problem cannot be resolved.
However, the first course of action should always be to try and discuss any issues with your landlord.
Escalating matters directly to the Tribunal can tend to strain relationships. Ideally, the Tribunal should be a last resort if there is an issue or dispute that cannot be resolved directly between the landlord or tenant.
If an obligation or responsibility is not being met by either party, (for example the landlord refusing to do required maintenance or a tenant not paying their rent), then the other party can issue a notice to remedy giving 14-days’ notice to rectify the issue.
If the matter remains unresolved after the 14 days has expired, then an application to the Tenancy Tribunal can be made. Once the application is in:
- There will be the opportunity to attend meditation, where a mediator will try to help the landlord and tenant reach an agreement to get things resolved. If there is an agreement, they will make a Mediated Order which is enforceable by law if it is broken. This Order is not made available for public view.
- If there is no agreement, the matter will be referred to the Tribunal and you will need to attend a hearing in court.
- At a Tenancy Tribunal hearing, both parties must present their side of the case with facts and provide evidence. Once presented, the tribunal Adjudicator will make a ruling as a Tribunal Order which is legally binding. Tenancy Tribunal Orders can be searched and viewed online.