Renting a house
When you arrive in New Zealand it is a good idea initially to rent a home while you decide where you wish to live.
Since New Zealand has a high level of home ownership, the stock of rental housing is less extensive than in most other developed countries. Prices and quality vary and it is always advisable to visit a property personally before signing a Residential Tenancy Agreement. First appearances can be deceptive – make sure you check the basics. Parts of New Zealand can be cold and houses that do not get a lot of direct sun may have problems with dampness during the winter months. Factors such as proximity to transport, shops and schools, as well as the general feel of the neighbourhood, also need to be taken into account. It is a good idea to find out about all your legal rights and responsibilities well before signing a lease. The Tenancy Services division of the Department of Building and Housing can help you with this.
Most rental properties are unfurnished, apart from an oven, a laundry facility and things like curtains and carpet. The landlord does not have to provide a heater so, in some cases you may have to provide your own. Demand for good quality rentals is high. It may take some time to find a suitable property and, when you do, you will usually have to make a quick decision.
Finding a Rental Home
WHERE TO LOOK
The To Let columns in the newspaper, especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays, are a good place to start. You need to phone about places early, as the best flats/apartments and houses go quickly. You can also search online Property to Rent in the NZ Herald newspaper, or the Trade Me Property- To Rent Section of Trade Me online.
REAL ESTATE AGENTS
Many real estate agents also deal in rental properties. Their commission charges are due only once a rental contract is completed, and these should not exceed one week's rent.
These centres will usually charge a fee for you to look at their listed properties. The fee is generally less than that charged by real estate agents, but it may be charged even if you do not find a home through their lists. If you are referred to a real estate agent by the letting centre, you may also have to pay the real estate agent's fee.
HOW TO READ A REAL ESTATE ADVERTISEMENT
A brief guide to common abbreviations
ac air conditioning
BBO Buyer Budget Over
BEO Buyer Enquiry Over
bics built-in cupboards
bir built-in wardrobe
bt brick walls with tile roof
bv brick veneer
CBD Central Business District
ctl cement tile
CV Commercial Value
elf electric light fittings
elhws electric hot water service
ens en suite bathroom
fib fibro cement
fl covs floor coverings
f/furn fully furnished
f tld fully tiled
ghwsgas hot water service
GV Government Valuation (same as QV)
ingrpl in-ground pool
ldr lounge dining room
l'fitt light fittings
lug lock-up garage
LV Land Value
| ofp open fireplace
oil/htr oil heater
ono or nearest offer
ophws off-peak hot water system
osp off-street car parking
oyo own your own
pa per annum
pmth per month
polflr polished floor
pw per week
QV Quotable Valuation
rc reverse cycle
row right of way
RV Rateable Value
sb solid brick
shwr rcs shower recess
s'out sleep-out cabin
stca subject to council approval
tc tile terracotta tiles
tf timber frame
tld rf tiled roof
umr under main roof
ven blds venetian blinds
vp vacant possession
wi wrought iron
wi pant walk-in pantry
ww crpt wall-to-wall carpet
It is the landlord's responsibility to provide you with a Residential Tenancy Agreement.
The Tenancy Agreement sets out the conditions of the lease. This should be in plain language and a tenant should never sign anything he or she does not understand. Both the tenants and landlord sign the agreement and keep a copy. However, anything in the agreement which is different from the law has no effect. For example, if the agreement says tenants can be given a month's notice, this cannot be enforced, as the law says tenants are entitled to either 42 or 90 days' notice, depending on the situation. A landlord cannot enforce what is outside the law and tenants cannot give away their legal rights.
TYPES OF TENANCIES
Any tenancy that is not for a fixed time, and continues until the landlord or the tenant ends it by giving notice, or the Tenancy Tribunal orders that the tenancy is over. This is the most common form of tenancy.
These finish on a date recorded in the agreement, and neither the landlord nor the tenant can end the tenancy earlier.
Fixed-term tenancies not fully covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 1986:
tenancies of less than 120 days
tenancies of five years or more, in which the Tenancy Agreement states that the Residential Tenancies Act does not apply.
It is a good idea to seek advice from Tenancy Services before signing a contract for these types of tenancies.
Most landlords require tenants to pay a bond that is generally equivalent to two or four weeks' rent. Landlords cannot ask for more than four weeks' rent as bond.
The landlord will provide you with a Bond Lodgement Form that both you and the landlord are required to complete and sign. The landlord must deposit the form and your accompanying cheque for the bond with the Tenancy Services Centre within 23 working days of receiving it.
A receipt will then be sent to both you and your landlord. If you don't receive this receipt you should call Tenancy Services.
The bond will be refunded to you when you leave the property, unless you have rent owing or have caused damage. If the property is damaged, some or your entire bond is used to pay for the repair.
When you give notice to move out, the landlord will inspect the property to make sure you have not caused damage. To recover your bond, complete a Bond Refund Form, signed by both you and the landlord, and send it to the Tenancy Services Centre. If you cannot reach agreement with the landlord over the return of your bond, contact Tenancy Services.
To download Bond Lodgement and Bond Refund forms, visit Tenancy Services.
PROPERTY INSPECTION REPORT
It is important to record with your landlord not only the furniture and fittings provided, but the condition of the property and chattels. For instance, if the kitchen bench has a burn mark, this needs to be noted so you are not held responsible for it when the tenancy ends. Property Inspection Report Forms are usually part of Tenancy Agreement Forms.
To download Tenancy Agreement Forms, visit Tenancy Services
. Forms can also be purchased from major stationery shops.
A TENANCY AGREEMENT MUST INCLUDE
the names and addresses of the landlord and tenant, and the address of the property
the date the Tenancy Agreement is signed
the date the tenancy starts
addresses for service for both the landlord and the tenant (this needs to be a permanent address; perhaps a family member's or friend's)
whether the tenant is under the age of 18
the bond amount
the rent amount and how often it will be paid
the place or bank account number where the rent is to be paid
any real estate agent's or solicitor's fees paid
if the tenant is to pay for metered water
a list of chattels (e.g. light fittings, curtains, oven, and washing machine) provided by the landlord
the date a fixed-term tenancy will end
Optional conditions include:
how many people can live on the premises
not attaching anything to the house or flat
not subletting or giving the tenancy to
whether smoking is permitted
whether an animal is permitted
ENDING A TENANCY
Tenants wanting to leave must give 21 days' signed notice in writing and provide their tenancy address and leaving date. If notice is sent by mail, four working days must be added to the notice period. A landlord must give a tenant written notice of at least 90 days, or 42 days if the property is needed for family or employees, or has been sold.
If a landlord gives a tenant notice, the tenant can live in the property until the tenancy ends. Tenants can, however, move out sooner if they give 21 days' written notice to the landlord.
A fixed-term tenancy automatically ends on the stated date, so you do not need to give notice. You can talk with the landlord about renewing the tenancy, although he or she will be entitled to raise the rent at the end of the term.
Rent is usually paid fortnightly in advance, but it is possible to make monthly payments if your landlord agrees. The landlord must give you a receipt for the rent you pay by either cash or cheque. If you use automatic payments, your bank records act as receipts.
Rents are determined by market demand and can vary widely depending on the desirability of the property. You can check out market rents in your area on the Tenancy Services website. If you think your rent is higher than it should be compared with similar properties, you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal through Tenancy Services for a market rent assessment. If the Tribunal orders a lower rent, the landlord must comply with this ruling and also cannot increase the new rent for a period set by the Tribunal (usually six months).
If you have a periodic tenancy, your landlord cannot increase the rent within six months of either the start of the tenancy or the last rent increase. Rents for fixed-term tenancies also cannot be increased more frequently unless the Tenancy Agreement specifically provides for this.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO PAY
When you agree to rent a property, you usually need to pay:
• a fee to the letting agent if you have used one
• a bond
• rent in advance.
You will also need to pay for getting the telephone, electricity and, where applicable, gas connected. For example, if your rent is $350 per week, you may need:
4 weeks' rent as bond $1,800
2 weeks' rent in advance $900
1 week's rent for the agent's commission (including Goods and Services Tax or GST) $450
telephone, power and gas connections $400
In total you will need (approximately) $3,550
Tenants' Rights and Responsibilities
A TENANT MUST:
pay the rent on time
use the property mainly as a home
keep the property clean and tidy
promptly report any damage/repairs
repair any damage caused by the tenant or guests
permit no more than the specified number of residents.
At the end of the tenancy:
depart on or before the due date
remove all goods and rubbish
leave the property clean and tidy
return all keys and pass cards
leave all chattels in good order
provide access to prospective tenants or buyers
pay electricity, telephone and other agreed charges.
A TENANT MUST NOT:
damage the property or allow others to do so
use the property for unlawful purposes or allow others to do so
disturb the peace of other tenants or neighbours
alter the property or change the locks
refuse rightful entry to the landlord or their agent
sublet or transfer the tenancy without permission.
Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities
A LANDLORD MUST:
give 60 days' notice of a rent increase
give 48 hours' notice of an inspection
give 24 hours' notice of entry for repairs
give 42 days' notice of plans to sell the property
ensure locks and fastenings work
provide receipts for cash/cheque payments
provide rent statements if requested
do any necessary repairs
pay for urgent repairs
present a clean and habitable property
pay costs such as rates and insurance of the property/building
ensure tenants are not unreasonably disturbed.
A LANDLORD MUST NOT:
block reasonable subletting or tenancy re-assignment
prohibit the use of suitable interior fixtures
change locks without consent
enter without consent or legal right.
Problems when Renting
If something needs repairing, talk to the landlord first. However, if something needs fixing urgently, for instance a leaking hot water cylinder, or a blocked toilet, and you cannot contact the landlord, you may get the repair work done yourself. In this case the landlord must refund the repair cost.
If you ask the landlord to do necessary repairs, and nothing is done, send your landlord a letter requesting that the work be done within ten working days. If the repairs are still not done, make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal. If the problem is serious, the landlord may be ordered to pay you compensation, or you may be able to end the tenancy.
If you damage a rental property, or make it unfit to live in, the landlord can give you ten working days to put things right. If the work is not done, the landlord may ask the Tenancy Tribunal to order you to do the required cleaning/repairs, or for the tenancy to be ended.
First, talk to your landlord. If talking does not work, contact Tenancy Services.
Interpreting services can be provided by Tenancy Services if you need to attend mediation or a Tenancy Tribunal hearing as a result of a dispute.
Contents insurance is important for people who are renting accommodation as it can cover both household possessions and liability for accidental damage to a rental property. It may also provide for the cost of temporary accommodation if an accident makes your home uninhabitable. Insurance of the actual property/building is the landlord's responsibility.
Tenancy Services publishes two free booklets on renting. What to do when you're renting is a handy, step-by-step guide for tenants. It is available in English, Samoan and Tongan. Renting and you is a more comprehensive guide designed for both landlords and tenants. It is available in Samoan, Tongan, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Arabic and Korean as well as the standard English version. Both publications can be downloaded from the Department of Building and Housing.
For free advice and information on renting, contact:
Freephone: 0800 836 262 (0800 TENANCY)
By law, a landlord cannot discriminate against you because of your colour, race, gender, ethnic origin, disability or religious beliefs.
If you think you have been discriminated against, contact either: Tenancy Services
The Human Rights Commission
Free phone: 0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)