Napier CAB manager Jenny Pearce
At the Napier Citizens Advice Bureau we get regular enquiries from people with "landlord
problems" and, occasionally, landlords with "tenant problems". With the start of the tertiary year upon us and students moving into new accommodation arrangements, it is timely to give advice which might avoid problems further down the track.
Major changes to tenancy laws are now in place with phase 2 having taken effect from February 11, so it is imperative that all tenants and landlord become familiar with them.
Whether you are flatting or boarding, a written agreement signed by all parties before you take up occupation is now a legal requirement for landlords. This includes all the tenants being named on the tenancy agreement including the landlord. This applies to all standard tenancy agreements, either a fixed term or a periodic tenancy. Most importantly, the agreement defines precisely who the tenants are and who is the landlord, or the landlord's appointed agent.
If you are renting all or part of a property, it's a tenancy agreement and will cover such important matters as commencement date, rent payable in advance (not more than two weeks), bond payable (not more than four weeks), how and when rent is to be paid, rent reviews, landlord's inspection rights (must give at least 48 hours notice, and not more than four-weekly).
There is sure to be mention of the tenants' responsibility for care of the property and not to disturb the neighbours. Possibly there will be mention of the landlord's insurance policy and the amount of any excess payable by the tenant, in the event of any damage. If so, the tenant is entitled to inspect the policy.
Security of Occupation
An important new development from February 11 has been that landlords will not be able to end a tenancy by simply giving 90 days' notice to vacate. New termination grounds will be available to landlords under a periodic tenancy and the required notice periods will change. However, for serious misdemeanours by the tenant, usually where serious damage to the property has occurred or the police have been involved and warnings have been issued, or rent is in arrears by at least 21 days, then 14 days' notice can be given, with the tenancy tribunal's permission. If the property is being sold or extensively renovated, or the landlord or family will be moving in, 90 days' notice is now required. Tenants must give at least 28 days' notice if they want to vacate, and landlords must consider any reasonable requests for the tenancy to be assigned to another person.
Healthy Homes Requirements
All landlords are now required to ensure their property/s comply with the government's healthy homes regulations. Rental agreements need to include a description of the insulation installed, including an underfloor moisture barrier, have a fixed heater installed in the living room, extractor fans installed in the kitchen and bathroom, any draughts to be sealed, and the roof and other drainage to be all working properly. Smoke alarms in rental homes are compulsory.
In general, rent increases can now only be applied at no greater frequency than 12 monthly. The new rent for the property should not exceed the market rate for similar properties in the area.
The Tenancy Tribunal
The Tenancy Tribunal is the government-funded body, established under the Residential Tenancies Act. which among other functions makes decisions on things that landlords and tenants can't agree upon such as rent increases, notices to vacate etc.
Are you a tenant or a flatmate?
From the outset, when you go into a flat it's important that you're quite clear whether you are
• A tenant, in which case, you are named in, and you signed, the tenancy agreement. You are legally bound by its terms and all the requirements of current tenancy law.
• Otherwise, you are a flatmate, there at the invitation of the legal tenant. You are not bound by the Residential Tenancies Act or the tenancy agreement. However, it is strongly recommended that you have a written agreement with the legal tenant/s of the flat covering such matters as how much and when you pay your rent, what outgoings you need to pay, how much notice to vacate, visitors, pets etc. There is a very good sample house/flat sharing agreement on the tenancy website.
Landlords may request a bond equivalent to a maximum of four weeks' rent which must be lodged with Tenancy Services. A joint application for its release is made by the landlord and tenant at the end of the tenancy for its refund, subject to any agreed adjustments for damage repairs etc. Tenants may not stop rental payments towards the end of the tenancy as a means to reclaim their bond.
If you are in a private boarding situation (less than six boarders) then we recommend that you also enter into a written agreement with the homeowner in whose property you board.
It is strongly recommended that you take out your own renters' insurance policy that gives you protection against accidental loss or damage to your personal furniture and effects, accidental damage you may cause to someone else's property and possibly for additional costs for temporary accommodation if your rented property becomes unliveable for any unforeseen reason.
■ For more information about the significant changes to the Tenancy Act contact us at the Napier Citizens Advice Bureau. We are open 9am to 4pm weekdays and 9.30am to 10.30 am on Saturdays. Find us at 126 Hastings St (above the BNZ, Napier). No appointment is necessary. Or ring us on 06 8359664 or email anytime to email@example.com. Confidentiality is assured.