Amongst the Covid-19 chaos, we are finding many residential landlords and tenants uncertain of their rights.
With the information platform evolving every day, it is hard to keep up and understand exactly what law changes apply to you.
Housing and financial certainty is crucial for both the landlord and the tenant.
On 23 March 2020, under the COVID-19 (Urgent Management Measures) Amendment Act, the Minister of Finance announced a freeze of rent increases and protections against tenancy terminations that came into force on 26 March 2020.
A rent freeze applies for an initial period of six months.
If your landlord has issued you with a rent increase notice that comes into effect after 26 March, it does not apply.
In addition to this, tenancy terminations are protected for a period of three months, regardless of when the notice was provided, unless the parties agree otherwise.
There are now only a few, very limited circumstances in which a tenancy may be terminated during this time.
These include assaulting or threatening to assault the landlord or neighbours, or substantially damaging or threatening to substantially threaten the property.
If a termination notice has been issued, either by the landlord or by the Tenancy Tribunal, that was due to come into effect during the lockdown, it is now postponed until 15 days after the three-month protection applies – unless the government extends these protections.
Tenants can continue to be given notice to end their tenancy as normal i.e. 21 days for periodic tenancy arrangements.
However, tenants have the additional ability under the new laws to revoke a notice that they have already given to end the tenancy to allow them to remain in the property during the lock-down.
Likewise, if a fixed term tenancy ends during the lockdown period it will become a period tenancy allowing the tenant to continue to reside in the property.
In these situations, the terms of the current tenancy agreement continue.
Drop or loss of employment income will lead to some tenants having trouble to pay rent.
The tenant is still responsible for paying rent.
Tenants are encouraged to be honest with their landlords about their circumstances and many landlords are being reasonable during this time, allowing payment plans and other negotiated rental decreases.
Particularly as, during the three-month termination protection, a landlord cannot apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to end a tenancy until the tenant is 60 days behind in rent.
This is a significant increase from the usually 21 day arrears period.
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Even if a tenant is 60 days in arrears, the Tribunal must still consider whether it is fair in the circumstances to terminate the tenancy.
It will be interesting to see what the Tribunal determines as "fair" during the Covid-19 lock down.
No inspections may be carried out during the lockdown.
A tradesperson may be hired to carry out any urgent repairs and from Tuesday 28 April, tradies are permitted to undertake work provided physical distancing requirements can be satisfied.
As with most ongoing relationships during this time, it is important to keep an open line of communication between the landlord and the tenant to ensure certainty for both parties.
Further information can be found at www.tenancy.govt.nz.
•Pétra Allen is one of the law column writers from Treadwell Gordon.