Landlord or tenant, make sure you know your rights. Our guide explains what you need to know.

The tenancy agreement

A tenancy agreement is a contract, agreed to between a landlord and a tenant, which outlines the particular conditions of a tenancy. Both the landlord and tenant must sign the agreement and the landlord must ensure that the tenant receives a copy before the tenancy begins.

Among other things, the agreement must specify the names of the parties involved, the bond, a list of chattels, the date the tenancy will start and end (if it has a fixed term) and a contact address for the landlord.

A standard tenancy agreement is available from the Tenancy Services website.

Types of tenancy

There are 4 different types of tenancy.

Fixed-term tenancy runs for a period of time set out in the tenancy agreement. Neither the tenant nor the landlord may end the tenancy before the term is up.

There are three different types of tenancy: fixed-term, periodic and service.
There are three different types of tenancy: fixed-term, periodic and service.

This means if you agree to rent a property for a year but after 6 months decide to go overseas, you will continue to be responsible for the rent. However, if the landlord agrees to another tenant and a new tenancy agreement is signed your responsibility ends.

In exceptional circumstances, you can also apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for termination of tenancy. The tribunal will decide whose hardship would be greater - yours, if tenancy were to continue, or the landlord's, if it ends. It will rule accordingly, and can order compensation to be paid.

Periodic tenancy continues until either the landlord or tenant brings it to an end by giving notice. There's a correct way to do this.

Service tenancy occurs where an employer provides accommodation for an employee. Service tenancies are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act but have special rules relating to rent paid in advance and notices to quit.

We suggest you get more details from Tenancy Services if you are about to enter a service tenancy.

Boarding house tenancy covers one or more boarding rooms in a house with shared facilities for at least 6 tenants for more than 28 days.

Rent and other charges

Rent

Can my landlord ask for rent in advance?
Yes. A landlord can ask for up to 2 weeks' rent in advance but only 1 week's rent in advance if rent is to be paid weekly.

Can I insist on a receipt for my rent payments?
You are entitled to a receipt if you pay by cash. If you pay by cheque, automatic payment or direct debit, the landlord does not have to provide a receipt. In practice, you won't need one, as your bank will be able to provide a record of your rent payments.

How often can my landlord increase my rent?
Rent increases cannot be less than 6 months apart and can only be made after the landlord has provided 60 days' notice.

Is there a maximum rent a landlord can charge?
No, there are no restrictions on the amount by which rent may be increased.

If you think your rent is too high, check the rents charged for properties similar to yours. If you are satisfied your rent is out of line with the market you can ask the Tenancy Tribunal for a market rent assessment. The tribunal will assess what a willing landlord could expect to receive, and a willing tenant expect to pay for the tenancy, in comparison with rent levels in similar areas.

If the landlord is asking substantially more than this, the tribunal can make an order fixing the rent, usually for a period of 6 months.

Bond

A landlord can ask for up to 4 weeks' rent as bond. This must be lodged with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment within 23 working days of the bond being paid.

A bond lodgement form is available from the Tenancy Services website.

When the tenancy comes to an end, and there's been no damage to the property, unpaid rent or other dispute, both parties sign a bond refund form and the bond is refunded.

If you wish, it can be transferred to a new tenancy. For this to happen, a bond transfer form should be signed by you and both your new and old landlords. The new landlord should then send it to the Ministry.

For inquiries regarding tenancy bonds, call Tenancy Services: 0800 737 666.

Other charges

Your landlord can also ask for letting agent's fees and/or solicitor's fees charged for setting up the tenancy.

Option money
A landlord may ask for "option money": no more than 1 week's rent in advance as a deposit for holding a house or flat. It must be refunded or put towards your rent if you take up the tenancy.

Can landlords ask for "key money"?
"Key money" is money demanded by the landlord for giving you the tenancy (excluding rent, bond or an agent's or solicitor's fees).

It's illegal. A landlord cannot ask for $100 before supplying the key to the house or for a $50 deposit on a washing machine or money for anything else supplied with the tenancy.

Gas, electricity and phone
Generally it's the tenants' responsibility to arrange for these to be connected. If you think your newly rented house has been empty for a while, take a reading of the electricity and gas meter on the day you move in. You are only responsible for the power and gas that you use.

Conditions of tenancy

Discrimination

A landlord cannot discriminate because you are pregnant or of a particular sex, ethnic background, national origin, religion, marital status, age, or because you are unemployed or have children.

If you believe you are being discriminated against you can complain to the Tenancy Tribunal or the Human Rights Commission.

Rights of inspection

Landlords have the right to inspect their properties, but you also have a right to reasonable privacy in your own home.

The landlord must give you at least 48 hours' notice and not more than 14 days' notice of a visit. Inspections cannot be made more than once a month and must be made between the hours of 8am and 7pm.

If the landlord wishes to enter the property to make repairs they must give you at least 24 hours' notice, unless there is an emergency.

Urgent repairs

The toilet is blocked, you can't clear it with a plunger and the landlord can't be contacted. What should you do?

For urgent repairs in this situation, you can contract a tradesperson yourself and pass on the costs to the landlord. But you must keep those costs reasonable.

Termination of tenancy

Where there is no fixed term, tenants must give 21 days' written notice, unless the landlord agrees to allow a shorter time. Even if the landlord says it is not needed, it is a good idea to put the notice in writing and keep a copy of it.

The landlord, on the other hand, must give at least 90 days' notice in writing of their intention to end the tenancy. But if they or members of their family wish to move in, or if the property has been sold, they only have to give 42 days' notice.

The landlord can show prospective tenants through the property, even if you are still living there, provided they have given notice and first obtained your consent for the visits. You cannot unreasonably withhold your consent, but may set reasonable conditions before agreeing to let them into the house.

Resolving disputes

If you have a dispute with your landlord that cannot be resolved, you can lodge an application with the Tenancy Tribunal. It costs $20.44.

After this is done the matter will usually be referred to mediation. If the matter remains unresolved, the tribunal can hold a formal hearing to resolve the dispute.