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Tenancy agreements

Make sure you know your rental rights. Our guide explains what you need to know.

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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. You should read and ensure you understand the agreement before signing it. The landlord must ensure the tenant receives a copy of the agreement 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

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

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. The landlord may charge a fee for early termination. However, these fees should reflect the actual cost to the landlord of finding a new tenant.

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 tenancies continue until either the landlord or tenant brings it to an end by giving notice.

Service tenancies occur 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 tenancies cover 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. If you have a fixed-term tenancy, your landlord can’t increase the rent unless allowed to under the tenancy agreement.

Is there a maximum rent a landlord can charge?
No, there are no restrictions.

If you think your rent is too high, check the rents for your area on the Tenancy Services website. If you think 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 would expect to receive, and a willing tenant would expect to pay for the tenancy, in comparison with rent levels for similar properties 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. Landlords must lodge the bond with Tenancy Services within 23 working days of receiving it.

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 disputes, 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 Tenancy Services.

I don’t think my landlord has lodged my bond. What should I do?
If you don’t receive an acknowledgement that your bond has been received within a reasonable period after you paid it, call Tenancy Services on 0800 737 666 to check. If your landlord hasn’t lodged your bond within 23 working days, they could be fined for breaching their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.

My landlord is refusing to refund my bond. What are my options?
If you can’t agree on the bond refund, either party can make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal to get it sorted. The dispute may be referred to mediation or, if the parties don’t want to use a mediator, the case will be heard by the tribunal.

Other charges

Your landlord can also ask for letting agent's fees and/or solicitor's fees 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. Take a reading of the electricity and gas meters 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, sexual orientation, ethnic background, national origin, religion, marital status, age, or because you are disabled, 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 but 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.

My landlord keeps turning up unannounced to do inspections. What are my rights?
If your landlord hasn’t given you 48 hours’ notice before an inspection (or 24 hours’ notice for repairs and maintenance), ask them to come back after the required notice period. If the landlord refuses to give you adequate notice, contact Tenancy Services.

My rental property is for sale. What are my rights as a tenant?
Your landlord should ask your permission to show real estate agents or prospective buyers through your home. You can’t unreasonably refuse permission but you can impose conditions such on access, such as the times and days, asking to be present etc.

If the landlord wants to have open homes, they have to agree on times with you. If you don’t want open homes, you can insist buyers visit by appointment only. You can also ask the landlord for a temporary rent reduction. However, the landlord is under no obligation to agree to this.

Maintenance

Landlords need to keep their properties in reasonable repair. They must also comply with relevant health and safety legislation.

Mould is growing in my rental property. What should I do?
Tenants need to keep their rentals in a condition that doesn’t encourage mould and damp. This includes keeping the house well aired and removing mould as soon as it appears.

If the mould is caused by a leak, ask your landlord to repair the leak and any other damage it has caused.

My landlord is refusing to put insulation in my house. What are my rights?
Ceiling and underfloor insulation, where it is reasonably practicable to install, will be compulsory in all rental homes from 1 July 2019. If your landlord does not comply with the regulations, they could be liable for a penalty of up to $4000. Talk to your landlord or contact Tenancy Services.

My rental property is freezing in winter. What are my rights?
Landlords only have to provide heating in the living room. If there is no heating in the living room, talk to your landlord or contact Tenancy Services.

There are no smoke alarms in my rental. What are my rights?
Landlords must ensure their rental properties have working smoke alarms at the start of each new tenancy. Talk to your landlord and let them know they can be fined up to $4000 for not complying with the regulations.

Repairs and damage

Tenants need to tell the landlord straight away if something is damaged or needs repair.

If repairs are urgent or a danger and likely to cause injury to you or damage to the property, you can get the problem fixed yourself and ask the landlord to pay the cost. The landlord must reimburse you, as long as you’ve made reasonable efforts to advise them of the problem.

Tenants are not responsible for damage arising from natural disasters, fair wear and tear or burglaries but will be responsible for intentional damage. Tenants may also be liable for careless damage in some circumstances. Read more about who’s liable to pay for damage here.

My landlord won’t do the repairs I’ve requested. What are my rights?
If your landlord is refusing to carry out necessary repairs, you can issue them with a 14-day notice to remedy. This gives your landlord 14 days to get the work done. If the landlord still hasn’t carried out the repairs, you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for help.

The toilet is blocked and you can’t fix it. What can you do?
In this situation, try contacting your landlord. If you can’t contact them or if your landlord refuses to do anything, you can contract a tradesperson yourself and pass on the costs to the landlord. But you must keep 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.

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