A young Auckland family are pleading for compassion after being told they must pay double rent during the emergency Covid-19 lockdown totalling more than $1600 a week.
And their hardship is likely to be mirrored by countless Kiwi renters who can no longer move into new rental properties due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Ray Chun, 43, and his wife have lost their livelihood after their central Auckland internet cafe was forced to shut last week.
The couple and their two young children had been due to vacate their Forrest Hill, North Shore rental property of eight years last Sunday after their landlord gave them notice that she planned to sell the house.
They'd signed a new tenancy agreement on a five-bedroom property nearby in Forrest Hill Rd for $820 a week and had been set to move in on March 29.
However the lockdown made this impossible, so they negotiated with their current landlord to stay put and continue paying $800 a week rent till the unprecedented restrictions ended.
Chun wrote to the property agent who manages the new rental explaining his family's dire financial situation after their business was forced to close. He asked that the new tenancy be delayed by four weeks till April 24, otherwise "our family will be forced to fall into a severe financial hardship".
"Sadly, we are in a state of national emergency and our family is under extreme pressure," Chun wrote.
"In order to survive, we have to be united, be kind and collaboratively and mutually help each other rather than unilaterally insisting [on rights which people] would have been entitled to in normal situation."
Chun "sincerely and respectfully" asked for four weeks' grace.
"Our family believe requiring a full rental during this lockdown period is excessive, unreasonable and severe while there is no fault at all on our family.
"In addition, no one knows whether the lockdown will be lifted after 4 weeks. We believe you as well as the landlord are reasonable, rational and kind persons as this Government asks everyone to be especially during this lockdown."
The agent agreed to a two-week rent hiatus but insists Chun's family begin paying rent from April 12.
"Please relax, I fully understand your worries," the agent wrote.
"But now we have no choice, please stay at home.
"See, thing always has solutions. Please look after your family at this moment. Life is more important. Sorry for causing any your inconvenience [sic]."
Chun contacted Tenancy Services to ask about his rights.
In an email, a client service adviser confirmed Chun's family were liable for the double rent hit. If the lockdown was extended he should try to negotiate further with both landlords.
"If the new landlord requires you to start paying rent and you still are in occupation of the old rental, you will be required to pay both rents. You should try [to] reach an agreement with one or both landlords on a payment plan to pay any arrears that may occur."
Chun told the Herald the situation was extremely unfair. He was now considering going to the Tenancy Tribunal.
He believed countless families around the country would be in the same situation and he called for the Government to provide financial relief to renters, as it had for mortgage holders and businesses.
"I don't want to pay double. There are so many people struggling with this problem."
Housing and Tenancy Services manager information and education Jennifer Sykes told the Herald that under the alert four lockdown restrictions, tenants should stay in their current property if possible.
If the new tenancy was to be periodic, they could give 21 days' notice.
"The tenant may have to pay double rent during this time, but they should see if they can come to an arrangement with the landlord."
If the new tenancy was to be a fixed-term, the tenant should try to come to an arrangement with the landlord to cancel it.
"Landlords are encouraged to be flexible during these difficult times."
One option was for landlords and tenants in these situations to consider temporarily reducing rent.
If either party was unable to come to an agreement, the tenant could apply to the Tribunal under the grounds of unforeseen hardship to reduce the term of the tenancy.
Meanwhile, NZ Property Investors' Federation executive officer Sharon Cullwick says some tenants have mistaken the Government's rent freeze announcement as a freeze on having to pay rent.
"We have heard from many members that their tenants have contacted them saying they no longer have to pay rent while other tenants are simply stopping their rental payments."
The freeze prevents landlords increasing rents during the lockdown but tenants are still required to pay rent on their properties.
"We are asking our members to be compassionate with regard to their tenants, but we would also like tenants to understand that many landlords are facing financial difficulties as well."