Do you know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant or a landlord?
Tenants who caused a fire by leaving oil unattended on a stove in 2009 have been let off the hook for the property damage after a landmark decision by the Court of Appeal ruled they could not be held financially responsible.
A Christchurch property manager is concerned the rulings could lead to higher insurance premiums pushing up rents, or landlords excluding risky tenants such as families with children. Insurance companies might also insist landlords take only insured tenants.
Good tenants will end paying the price for what the bad ones do, he says.
I thought I knew my rights and responsibilities as a tenant after years of signing rental agreements, but I was surprised by a few points I spotted in this advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
What if the house you’re renting goes up for sale? Or your landlord moves overseas? What if your property needs extensive repairs and you need to put the rent up to cover them?
Read up on your rights to make sure you don’t end up with the rough end of the renting stick.
The Things You Didn’t Know To Ask About Renting
I’m renting a house that’s for sale and the real estate agents want to keep bringing people through. Do I have to let them in?
The landlord needs to gain your permission to show real estate agents or prospective buyers through the house, and they have to visit at a reasonable hour. You can only refuse your landlord entry on reasonable grounds, which can include a real estate agent coming too often.
If the landlord wants to hold an open home at the house, they have to discuss this with you to agree on some specific times and dates. You don’t have to agree to an open home and can, for example, insist that agents and prospective buyers only visit by appointment.
More information about what your rights are if your landlord is planning on selling the property you rent is on the Tenancy Services website.
I’m a landlord and I’m going to be overseas for a while – what do I need to do?
If you own a rental property in New Zealand and will be out of the country for more than 21 consecutive days then by law you must appoint an agent who can act on your behalf.
This means that if the tenant has any issues they would normally bring up with you (the landlord), they will need to contact your agent (e.g. if your tenant needs to ask for repairs to be done).
You can appoint anyone to be your agent, but preferably it should be someone who is fully aware of, and able to fulfil, their responsibilities.
Some landlords choose to engage a professional property manager for this role; others appoint a friend or family member.
Once you have appointed an agent, you’ll need to:
- advise your tenants about who the agent is and how they can contact the agent
- fill out a change of landlord form for MBIE’s Tenancy Services
- contact the Bond Centre and ask them to update their records with your agent’s name. This means that if your tenant leaves while you are overseas (and they have left the property in the same condition as when they moved in), they can still get their bond back.
When you return to New Zealand you’ll need to tell your tenant and Tenancy Services that you are back and taking over from your agent.
The place I’m renting needs lots of repairs. My landlord says if they get repairs done they’ll put my rent up to cover the costs. Can they do this?
Your landlord is obliged to keep the rental property in a reasonable state of repair, which means ensuring that any necessary repairs are completed.
Your landlord is entitled to review your rent every 180 days – if they wish to increase your rent, they have to give you a minimum amount of notice.
If you have a fixed tenancy however, then your landlord can’t change the rent unless it is specifically allowed for in the tenancy agreement. More information about this is on the Citizen Advice Bureau’s Paying Rent page.
Know Your Rights And Responsibilities: Tenants
What are my rights as a tenant?
You have a right to enjoy your property privately, undisturbed by others.
The landlord has to respect your peace and privacy. If they don’t, the Tenancy Tribunal can fine your landlord. You also have rights regarding rent, bond, property inspections and other renting costs.
What are my obligations and responsibilities as a tenant?
Unless the landlord agrees in writing to pay for them, you are obliged to pay the power, gas, telephone charges.
You must also pay water usage charges if:
- the water supplier charges separately for the water, and
- there is a meter to measure how much water was used
Note that the landlord is responsible for paying any fixed water charges.
During your tenancy, you must not:
- intentionally or carelessly damage the premises
- use the premises for anything illegal
- disturb the neighbours
- have more people living in the premises than are specified in the agreement
- change the locks, attach fixtures or make any renovations, alterations or additions to the premises unless outlined in the agreement or allowed with written permission from the landlord
As a tenant you are responsible for:
- paying the rent on time
- making sure the house or flat is used mainly for living purposes
- keeping the house or flat reasonably clean and tidy
- being a good neighbour (i.e. not disturbing your neighbours or other tenants)
- letting the landlord know as soon as damage is discovered or repairs are needed
- leaving when the tenancy comes to an end
- removing all your personal items from the house or flat when you leave
- leaving the house or flat reasonably tidy, and remove all rubbish at the end of the tenancy
- returning the keys to the landlord at the end of the tenancy
- leaving any personal items or pieces of furniture provided by the landlord
Know Your Rights And Responsibilities: Landlords
What are my rights as a landlord?
You have the right to:
- enter the premises if you have the tenant’s permission (usually you have to give 48 hours’ notice), if there is an emergency, or if the Tenancy Tribunal has made an order that the landlord can enter the premises
- receive rent when it is due
- set an amount for bond money
- inspect the premises when the tenant leaves
- hold money back from the bond if there has been damage during the tenancy or if there is any rent owing from the tenants
What are my obligations and responsibilities as a landlord?
During the tenancy, you must:
- provide a written and signed tenancy agreement
- provide the premises in a reasonably clean state
- keep the premises in a reasonable state of repair
- comply with building, health and safety requirements
- provide receipts to your tenants for their rent payments if these payments aren’t recorded in some other way (e.g. if the rent is paid to you in cash)
- provide written notice of any rent increase
- take reasonable steps to make sure none of your tenants disturb each other (if you have tenants in neighbouring flats)
- compensate the tenant for serious and urgent repairs that the tenant has had done, if the damage was not the tenant’s fault and the tenant made a reasonable attempt to contact you about the repairs
- give the tenant at least 24 hours’ notice if you need to do any repairs or maintenance, and do the work between 8am and 7pm
- ask your tenant’s permission and visit at a reasonable hour if you want to show a prospective buyer, tenant or registered valuer through the premises
- not use force, or threat of force, to enter or attempt to enter the premises while the tenant or anyone else is on the premises – it’s an offence to do so
- not interfere with the supply of gas, power, water, telephone services, or other services to the premises, unless it is necessary for maintenance or repair, or to prevent danger
As a landlord, you must provide and maintain locks necessary to make the premises secure, and cannot change the locks without the tenant’s permission.
You are responsible for:
- providing locks that keep the house or flat secure
- giving notice to the tenants if the house or flat is going to be sold
- giving at least 48 hours notice if you want to inspect the house or flat
- giving at least 24 hours notice of any repair work to be carried out
If you want to inspect the premises you
- have to give the tenant at least 48 hours and up to 14 days warning
- must inspect between 8am and 7pm
- can’t inspect more than once every four weeks
Got some more questions? Then head to Tenancy Services to get some answers.