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Tenancies: Changes to the law

Good Morning - The Law and You - 25/11/10 - Tenancies - Changes to the law

Landlords, tenants and others involved in the rental property market need to be aware of changes to the law relating to residential tenancies that took effect from 1 October 2010.

Q: What are some of the changes that have been made to the Residential Tenancies Act?
If a landlord is going to be absent from New Zealand for more than 21 consecutive days, they must appoint a New Zealand-based agent, notify their tenants of the agents' details and the Bond Centre, if a bond is held. This ensures that tenants will always have someone to deal with issues that may arise during a tenancy and landlords can't avoid their obligations by being unreachable. A failure to provide a tenant is now added to the list of "unlawful acts" under the Act.

Q: What are the significance of unlawful acts?
Unlawful acts are breaches of the Act that give rise to a potential financial penalty. In the case of a landlord who leaves New Zealand for more than 21 days and fails to appoint an agent, they face a penalty of up to $1,000, which will be paid to the tenant.

Q: Are there any new unlawful acts created as a result of the recent changes?
A number of new unlawful acts have been added including: 
- the tenant exceeding the maximum number of people who may reside at the property; ($1,000) 
- the tenant using the premises for unlawful purposes; ($1,000) 
- the tenant harassing another tenant or a neighbour ($2,000) 
- landlord's failure to comply with their obligations regarding cleanliness, maintenance, relevant building, health and safety regulations ($3,000) 
- landlord interfering with the supply of services, for example electricity ($1,000)

Q: The Residential Tenancies Act now also extends to boarding houses...what's that change about?
This is probably one of the most significant changes as before 1 October...tenants of boarding houses had absolutely no rights under the Act. The new rules give boarding house tenant rights in the following areas:

- A boarding house landlord can ask for a bond of up to four weeks' rent and must provide the tenant a receipt forthwith. 
- A boarding house landlord must lodge the bond with the Department of Building and Housing within 23 working days, unless the bond is the equivalent to one week's rent or less.

- Boarding house landlords can increase rent with 28 days' written notice.

Tenancy agreement
A boarding house landlord must provide tenants with a written tenancy agreement. This should include: 
- whether the tenancy will last more than 28 days 
- one or more telephone numbers for the landlord 
- the boarding room number 
- stipulate if there are any other tenants in the house, and if so, how many 
- a statement of whether the tenancy is a joint tenancy and, if so, the names of the other people who will occupy the boarding room 
- services to be provided by the landlord that are included in rent (if any) 
- if the premises are to be managed by a person other than the landlord, the name an contact details of that person 
- fire evacuation procedures.

House rules
A boarding house landlord may make house rules relating to the use and enjoyment of the premises or services:
- a copy must be provided to the tenant at the start of the tenancy 
- a copy must be on display in the premises at all times 
- landlord to give 7 days notice to change the house rules.

A boarding house tenant may apply to the Tribunal for an order: 
- declaring a house rule to be unlawful 
- that a house rule be applied in a particular way, varied or set aside.

A boarding house landlord must: 
- provide and maintain sufficient locks to ensure premises are reasonably secure 
- ensure tenants have access to their room, toilet and bathroom facilities at all times 
- advise any tenant who will be affected by altering, adding or removing any lock.

A boarding house tenant: 
- must not interfere with any lock without the landlords consent 
- must return all keys provided by the landlord on termination of the tenancy.

Rights of entry
A Boarding house landlord may enter the boarding house at any time.

A boarding house landlord may enter a boarding room without notice: 
- With the tenants consent freely given at, or immediately before the time of entry (if the room is shared, this means the consent of any tenant of the room) 
- if the landlord believes on reasonable grounds that there is an emergency, or that there is serious risk to life or property, and immediate entry is necessary to reduce or eliminate that risk or save life or property 
- where entry is necessary to provide services that the landlord and tenant have agreed to, as long as entry is in accordance with the conditions of the agreement or house rules 
- in accordance with an order from the Tenancy Tribunal.

A boarding house landlord may enter a boarding room, after giving 24 hours' written notice to the tenant (or to each tenant if the room is shared): 
- to inspect the room, if no entry for that purpose has been made within the last 4 weeks 
- to inspect the room, if the landlord believes the tenant has abandoned the rooms, or breached the Act in another way 
- to show the room to a prospective tenant or purchaser, 
- where entry is necessary to enable the landlord to fulfill their obligations under the Act 
- to inspect work the landlord required the tenant to carry out, or the tenant agreed to carry out 
- to show the room to a registered valuer, real estate agent or building inspector engaged in the preparation of a report.

When entering a boarding room, the boarding house landlord: 
- must not interfere with the tenants property, unless it is necessary to achieve the purpose of entry 
- must do so in a reasonable manner 
- must not use or threaten to use unauthorised force 
- must not stay in the room longer that is necessary to achieve the purpose of entry

Ending a boarding house tenancy
A boarding house tenant may terminate a tenancy with 48 hours' notice.

A boarding house landlord may terminate a tenancy:

Immediately if the tenant has caused or threatened to cause: 
- serious damage to the premises or 
- danger to people or property or 
- serious disruption to other residents.

With 48 hours' notice if: 
- the tenant fails to remedy rent arrears within 10 days of receiving a notice to do so
- the tenant has used or permitted the premises to be used for an illegal purpose
- the rent is in arrears and the landlord considers on reasonable grounds the tenant has abandoned the room, after inspecting the room and, if possible, making contact with the tenants contact person.

With 28 days' notice in any other case.