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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.

LETTING CENTRES

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
alc alcove
BBO Buyer Budget Over
BEO Buyer Enquiry Over
bi built-in
bics built-in cupboards
bir built-in wardrobe
bt brick walls with tile roof
bv brick veneer
CBD Central Business District
cpds cupboards
ctl cement tile
CV Commercial Value
det detached
elf electric light fittings
elhws electric hot water service
ens en suite bathroom
fib fibro cement
fitts fittings
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
k'ette kitchenette
ldr lounge dining room
l'fitt light fittings
lug lock-up garage
LV Land Value
neg negotiable
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
posn position
pw per week
QV Quotable Valuation
rc reverse cycle
rend rendered
rf roof
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
ver veranda
vp vacant possession
wb weatherboard
wi wrought iron
wi pant walk-in pantry
ww crpt wall-to-wall carpet

TENANCY AGREEMENT

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

Periodic 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.

Fixed-term tenancies

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.

    BONDS

    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 someone else
  • whether smoking is permitted
  • whether an animal is permitted

    ENDING A TENANCY

    Periodic tenancies

    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.

    Fixed-term tenancies

    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.

    PAYING RENT

    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:

    Expense Amount

    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



    REPAIRS

    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.

    DISPUTES

    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.

    INSURANCE

    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.

    HELPFUL HINTS

    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:
    Tenancy Services
    Freephone: 0800 836 262 (0800 TENANCY)


    DISCRIMINATION


    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 or
    The Human Rights Commission
    Free phone: 0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)


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