The case for changes in Residential Tenancy Act

For a time now I have been of the conclusion that it is time to review tenancy laws in New Zealand with regards to rental properties, the landlord and the occupants. My concerns stem from a combination of reports of irresponsible landlords letting their properties deteriorate whilst still charging full rent, and cases where tenancy disputes have resulted in the wrong decisions.

Barfoot and Thompson have listed what they interpret under the Residential Tenancies Act, to be the obligations of the landlord. There are multiple changes that I believe need to be made:

  • The rental property owner must live in New Zealand
  • Must notify occupants of properties if intending to be away for more than 48 hours and up to 21 days
  • Formal standards need to be set for detection of methamphetamine labs or other such drug manufacture that makes a property unsuitable for use
  • In times of emergency – earthquake, fire, medical and so forth – where circumstance do not permit normal rules of entry, the landlord and affected occupants must make reasonable effort to establish contact by phone
  • Landlords must not make undue increase in rents in times of emergency and any change needs to be explained to occupants – “because I felt like it” shall not be sufficient

Occupants have obligations as well. I believe that in the best interests of transparency, in addition to those obligations that are listed on the Government tenancy services website, occupants should also:

  • Notify the landlord of an early end to occupancy
  • Notify the landlord of visitors staying more than three nights

The house might be an old bungalow, or it could be an old granny flat that was built to be specifically able to cater for a person living on their own with little or no need for a yard. The problems could range from structural deficiencies to a general lack of maintenance. It might have mould problems from excessive condensation or have unsafe wiring. It might have just one of these problems or the entire range.

What I propose is a nation wide compulsory rental property warrant of fitness. The warrant of fitness would be implemented by city councils in large urban areas and district councils in smaller towns. The warrant of fitness would cover:

  • Sanitation
  • Moisture
  • Hygiene
  • Fire and structural safety

It would be renewed every year and require registration by the landlord. Properties deemed unfit to be used as rental properties would have to display in a prominent place such as a window near the door, or on the door itself a sticker indicating its status.

Consistently non-compliant rental property owners would be struck off the register of rental properties if their property fails to meet the criteria set on, say, three or more consecutive occasions.

Like many regulations, this is to address the fact that there is a small percentage of people who refuse steadfastly employ common decency and ensure that rental properties they own are of a standard that is fit for habitation. They are of the opinion that the law is not applicable to them. These are the ones who should not be in the rental property industry. There is also a percentage of rental property owners who comply just so that they are not caught operating deficient properties, but whose general attitude is to do the bare minimum.


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