Know Your Rights as a Renter in New Zealand
There comes a point in many backpackers’ travels where you must settle down for a few months, usually to experience living and working in New Zealand to fund the rest of your travels. One long-term accommodation option is renting a house or flat with friends or sharing a house as a flatmate. Before jumping into renting, know your rights to make sure you are treated fairly. This article will go through what are your rights as a tenant or flatmate in New Zealand.
When looking for a room to rent or a house share, there are three situations you are likely to find yourself in as a backpacker:
- You are a tenant renting a property from a landlord
- You are a flatmate sharing the rent cost with a tenant
- You are a flatmate living with a landlord and paying rent to the landlord.
Although much of what is covered in the article below are legal rights between a tenant and landlord, it is a good idea to make sure these conditions are covered in a flat/house share agreement, if you are looking to be a flatmate rather than a tenant.
Are You a Tenant or a Flatmate?
First things first, your rights depends on whether you are technically a tenant or flatmate. A tenant is someone who has their name on the tenancy agreement and is protected by the Residential Tenancies Act.
Flatmates live in a property without having their name on the tenancy agreement. They are not protected by the Residential Tenancies Act. Flatmates’ rights depend on what has been agreed with the property’s tenant or landlord, whether it’s on a flatting agreement or agreements made in person, by text message, by email, etc.
General Rules Between Landlords, Tenants and Flatmates
Tenants in a house or flatshare situation have more responsibilities than flatmates. This means tenants are responsible for:
- making sure the rent is paid in full and on time,
- making sure the bond is paid,
- and any damage caused to the flat.
In turn, this generally means that tenants can:
- ask flatmates to move out,
- ask flatmates to pay their share of the bond,
- and can deduct outstanding costs from the bond when the flatmate leaves.
Paying the Rent as a Tenant
Here are your rights when it comes to paying your rent.
Changing the Price of Rent
A landlord must give a written warning of a rent rate increase 60 days before the increase takes place or 28 days in a boarding house. Your landlord can increase the price of rent once every 12 months.
If you feel you are being charged too much for rent, apply for a rent review with the Tenancy Tribunal. This is measured against the rent rates of similar properties in similar areas.
If You Can’t Pay the Rent
After your rent is overdue, even by just one day, the landlord can give you a notice saying you have 14 days to remedy the situation basically, by paying the rent that you owe. If you haven’t paid your rent within the notice period or 21 days after the rent was due, the landlord can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to order you to pay.
How Much Rent in Advance Can a Landlord Ask for?
Up to two weeks in advance. This counts as the first rent payment. The landlord cannot ask for more until that rent payment has been used up.
Should You Get a Receipt for Rent Payments?
If you pay in cash, yes, your landlord must give a receipt. Other methods of payment do not require a receipt. However, if you ask in writing for a statement of rent payments, the landlord must provide you with it.
The bond is money that acts as a security for the landlord that will be used to pay for any damages or unpaid rent. Whether you are a tenant or a flatmate, you have to pay a bond.
The worth of the bond can be anything up to four weeks’ worth of rent. The bond is not held by the landlord but by the Tenancy Services of the Ministry of the Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). This means the landlord must pay the bond to Tenancy Services within 23 working days of receiving it. Otherwise, if agreed with the landlord, you can pay the bond directly to MBIE. However you pay the bond, both you and the landlord must sign a bond lodgement form online or send the form and money by post. MBIE will then issue an acknowledgement to both you and the landlord. Keep this acknowledgement to get the bond back more easily.
What if the Landlord Does Not Send the Bond Payment to Tenancy Services?
If Tenancy Services doesn’t receive the bond within 23 working days, the landlord can be ordered to pay damages to the tenant. The tenant should contact Tenancy Services for this matter.
If the Landlord Increases the Rent, Can They Ask for More Bond Money?
Although this happens very rarely, the landlord can ask for the difference between the old bond price and the new bond price, however, it can be for no more than the number of weeks’ bond charged in the tenancy agreement.
Ending the Tenancy and Getting Your Bond Back
The bond will be paid back in full to the tenant/flatmate if there is no property damage and no outstanding rent payments. Damages might include damaged property, leaving the house and garden uncleaned, and missing items.
To get the bond back, the tenant and landlord must sign a bond refund form and send it to Tenancy Services by post, fax or email. Once the bond refund form is sent, you have 10 days to object. For any disputes about how much bond should be refunded, either landlord or tenant can make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal, for a fee of NZ$20.
A property inspection is a good way for both you and the landlord to keep in contact regarding things such as maintenance issues and for the landlord to check if you are maintaining the property well.
A landlord has to give 48 hours’ notice before carrying out a property inspection. An inspection can occur once every four weeks at the most.
They must also give 24 hours’ notice before doing any repairs or maintenance.
Additional Renting Fees
Other fees you might face as a tenant include:
- An option fee – This is used as a deposit to secure the property while you decide whether to rent or not. It should be no more than one week’s rent. The option fee must be refunded or used as rent if decide to rent. If you decide not to rent, then the landlord can keep the option fee
- Letting fees – This is a commission for arranging the tenancy paid to the lettings agents, real estate agents or landlords’ solicitors. It is usually one week’s rent plus GST.
- Any related lawyers fees
- Power, gas and telephone
- Water usage, If the property water company charges separately for water and has no meter to record usage
- Call-out fees – If you tell your landlord that there is a maintenance issue and they call out a contractor to assess the problem then find there is no problem, you might be charged the call-out fee.
You should not pay fees for the following:
- Cleaning fees that are stated in the tenancy agreement, for example, an automatic bond deduction for cleaning at the end of your tenancy
- Property rates
- House insurance (not to be confused with contents insurance for your personal belongings)
- Land taxes
- Fixed water rates.
Leaving the Property
If you are a flatmate, it’s best to agree with the landlord/tenant in the flat-sharing agreement how many days’ notice is needed by either party to terminate the agreement, i.e. you move out or the tenant/landlord decides when they want you to move out. It is usually two weeks’, 10 days’ or one week’s notice.
Leaving a Period Tenancy Agreement
For ending period tenancy agreements (agreements running for an unspecified amount of time), the landlord must give 90 days’ notice depending on the reason. However, in some circumstances, the landlord must give 63 days’ notice and state the reason for giving you this notice to leave in writing with the property address, the date you are required to move out, and it needs to be signed by you. These circumstances include:
- The landlord or landlords family wants to move in
- The tenancy agreement states that the property is for housing the landlord’s employees, and another employee is taking over the tenancy.
Ending a Fixed Term Tenancy Agreement
Fixed-term tenancies have an end date specified on the tenancy agreement. If the tenancy is no more than 90 days (about three months), you must leave the property by the date specified.
If the tenancy is for longer than 90 days, then at the end of the fixed term the tenancy automatically becomes a periodic tenancy. If the tenant doesn’t want it to become a periodic tenancy, they need to give 28 days’ notice before the expiry date of the fixed term.
If the landlord doesn’t want it to become a periodic tenancy, they need to give a reason for ending the tenancy and provide notice based on the requirements of that reason. The reasons are the same as for ending a periodic tenancy.
If you wish to end your fixed-term tenancy early, this has to be agreed upon by both you and the landlord. If there is a dispute, the Tenancy Tribunal will decide and can order either you or the landlord to pay compensation to the other.
Disputes in Your House or Flat?
There are many ways to avoid disputes between flatmates, tenants and landlords, but the best way is by having a clear tenancy agreement or flat/houseshare agreement that is written. Although verbal agreements are still valid, written agreements are far more reliable. Plus, it is against the law for a landlord and tenant to not have a tenancy agreement.
If there are any issues, first approach the landlord/tenant/flatmate about it. If the issue is unresolved, tenants and landlords can take the matter to the Tenancy Tribunal, whereas flatmates can take matters to the Disputes Tribunal. You can also get advice on your specific case by contacting the New Zealand Citizens Advice Bureau.
Plus, a good way to avoid disputes is to follow the advice in 12 Tips to Get Along With Your Flatmates, as well as Safety Tips Before Moving into a Flat or House in New Zealand.