Property managers are the bane of many tenants' lives. When Consumer New Zealand surveyed members who were tenants, 65 per cent were not satisfied with the service they get from property managers. Only 46 per cent were unhappy with their landlords.
Robert Whitaker, of Renters United, says there's an additional person in the relationship when landlords hire a property manager.
The property manager is the go-to person when something needs fixing, but often they have to check with the landlord for permission to do anything. This delays getting things resolved.
In New Zealand, 32 per cent of all households are in rented accommodation. And they're more likely to put up with cold, damp or other issues that are substandard housing than owner occupiers.
Many are too scared to complain, worried they might be given a 90-day notice to quit, providing the notice isn't what's known as "retaliatory". Changes in tenure rules are on the drawing board with the Government.
Whitaker says there is an imbalance of power between tenants and their property managers or landlords. He compares it to the employer/employee relationship where rules ensure the latter are treated fairly. That's not the case with tenants who fear being made homeless if they ask for general maintenance issues to be addressed.
Some of the worst cases where tenants do raise issues make it to the Tenancy Tribunal.
A common issue is landlords going overseas and failing to appoint an agent under section 16A of the Residential Tenancies Act. In one such case Sarah Davidson, trustee of the Leigh Davidson Family Trust, was ordered to pay $300 exemplary damages to a tenant.
Sarah Davidson named her father "landlord" because she lived in Australia, but admitted she was "managing everything".
If the landlord won't agree for work to be done, there is little rental managers can do. In one case, Hamilton property management business Ray White arranged quotes for landlord Ricky Sharma after the tenants at a Nawton property told them of drainage issues.
The tribunal heard that Sharma thought the quotes excessive and failed to remedy the problems.
"The tenant correctly claims that this is not a relevant consideration and that the landlord has an obligation under the Act to provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair," the adjudicator said. The tenant was awarded $900 compensation.
Failure to lodge bonds is another issue.
Landlords and property managers are required to deposit the tenant's bond with Tenancy Services so they cannot unilaterally deduct money at the end of a tenancy. The tribunal hears many cases where this hasn't happened.
Tenants are becoming more aware of landlords letting unconsented dwellings. The tribunal heard that Fiaavae and Sukhbir Singh found, by checking Auckland City Council records, that the converted garage they rented in Otara had not been approved as a "lawful residential premises", meaning it couldn't be let legally.
The adjudicator ordered Taylor Property Management to refund the couple's $2000 rent.
Another issue is a breach of "quiet enjoyment". Havelock North tenant Jennifer Free was awarded $1615 when her landlord moved into a granny flat on the property she rented.
The flat was not consented as an independent dwelling. Free also learned she was paying for her landlord's power and water.
Working smoke alarms are required in rented properties by law and failing to provide them proved expensive for Mobile Property Management, which was ordered to pay Flatbush tenant Gareth James $2000. The adjudicator commented: "The effect on Mr James is obviously that his and his family's safety was put at risk."
Since July 2016 landlords have been required to provide insulation statements to tenants. When landlord Feng (Irene) Mei Lao failed to provide the statement, she was ordered to
pay $200 exemplary damages to her Mt Albert tenant Mohamed Shiyam.
Lao was ordered to pay another $6,020.44 for other breaches of the Act. Photos showed the property to be damp and mouldy. Shiyam's infant son was admitted to hospital twice with pneumonia during the tenancy.
The adjudicator questioned whether it was a legal flat and told the landlord to seek clarification from the council before it was let again. Insulation becomes compulsory in all rental homes from July 1 next year.
Another issue for tenants is that landlords can give 42 days' notice if they (or a family member) intend to use the premises as their "principal place of residence". Jim Brown Rentals wrongly used this rule against tenants Thomas Parkes and Robert Tod.
The tenancy adjudicator pointed out that in order to give 42 days' notice, the property manager can use only one of the allowable exceptions set out in section 51 of the Residential Tenancies Act, such as the landlord moving in. Simply being "needed" isn't enough.