Know your rights: The rules tenants must read before February rental overhaul

The biggest tenancy law overhaul in 35 years comes into effect in less than a month so this country’s 1.5 million people living in rental properties need to be aware of their new rights.

The previous coalition Government passed the new law in an attempt to give more security of tenure to tenants.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says an increasing number of New Zealanders are renting and she has referred to new healthy homes standards on insulation, ventilation and other measures to try to up rental home standards.

Nor has she been impressed with the landlord objections to strengthening tenants’ rights.

“The changes we’ve made as a Government have been about creating balance and making sure that a renter’s home is warm and dry. My view is that some of the statements we’ve seen made publicly does a disservice to landlords. The majority of landlords have good, stable tenants,” she said.

Key elements of changes from the tenants’ point of view are listed below, based in information from Tenancy Services, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the Real Estate Institute.

Instead of 21 days’ notice, you must give 28. This tips the balance slightly towards the landlord’s camp but it’s one of the few changes that do.

Rent can now only rise every year, not every six months;

The landlord can’t terminate the tenancy without a new set of specific legal grounds, whereas previously landlords didn’t need to give any reason for ending your time at the property.

Termination grounds now can be a sale of the property, landlord or their family moving in.

Tenant anti-social behaviour is further grounds for termination. As the Real Estate Institute pointed out on the new law: “Where a landlord has issued a tenant three written notices for separate anti-social acts within a 90-day period, they can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to end the tenancy.”

Anti-social behaviour is defined as harassment or any act or omission which reasonably causes alarm, distress or nuisance that is more than minor.

If you’re late with the rent by five working days three times during a 90-day period, that’s now legal grounds for termination.

Instead of you only getting only 42 day’s termination notice if the property is for or the landlord or their family are moving in, you’re now entitled to 90 days.

In the unthinkable event that you assault the landlord and the police charge you, that’s further termination grounds.

You can now legally ask to make minor changes like installing your own washing machine, dishwasher, doorbell, security alarms, visual alerts, satellite dish, TV aerial, curtains, shelving, picture hooks, baby gate or internal locks or build a garden.

Just remember, though, that the landlord can demand the property be returned to its original state when you leave, otherwise you could be in breach of your lease.

Before you make the changes, seek consent in writing.

Don’t forget to make good before your leave the place if that’s required of you, otherwise your bond could be at stake.

Give the landlord 21 days notice of your planned change, get consent, pay for it yourself and you can’t be unreasonably refused.

If you’re on a fixed-term tenancy agreement like for a year, that automatically becomes a periodic tenancy when the time’s up.

Rent auctions are banned, so when you’re hunting for a place, the actual rent must be advertised and the financial amount not withheld.

You will be able to reassign your lease, i.e. pass it to another tenant. But there are many riders around this. The landlord can’t withhold consent unreasonably if you ask but you need to say who you’re assigning your tenancy to with full contact details for the proposed person.

Prior written consent of the landlord is needed before you do that.

The stakes rise considerably if you need to go to the Tenancy Tribunal. Instead of the tribunal only being able to award up to $50,000 maxim, that threshold becomes $100,000. That can be an award either for the landlord or the tenant.

Another major tribunal change is name suppression, previously not available to parties going to the arm of the state which rules in tenancy disputes. Name suppression will now be possible but only where a party has been wholly or substantially successful in their case.

That means if you as a tenant win your case against the landlord and get a suppression order, future landlords and others can’t see that it was you who took the case. That could well mean your future chances of securing other premises is unaffected.

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