Renting 101: What are my rights as a tenant in 2022?

Can I be expelled without reason? Can I hang pictures on the wall? It’s time for a reminder of rental rights, rules and regulations.

Tenancy standards have improved somewhat in recent years, with the introduction of new regulations that have made it harder for tenants to be thrown unceremoniously onto the streets and easier to ensure they live in a warm, dry, healthy home. That’s not to say that renting in Aotearoa is a walk in the park. For Rental week On The Spinoff, we’ve published a number of stories that showcased the reality of renting, even with new rules meant to make things better.

We have heard that tenants are regularly asked to provide information above and beyond what is required when applying for a property and we have rounded up some of the most “cursed” rentals from New Zealand. We have also posted photos of some truly ungodly indoor mushroom gardens.

Rent Week has reminded me, and probably you, how confusing renting can be in New Zealand. So here I try to answer some of the questions you might have about your rights as a tenant (or landlord) in 2022 – whether you’re moving into your first apartment or just need a reminder.

Let’s start at the beginning: where can I find my rights?

The essence is in the legislation, namely the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. The general law may date from the mid-1980s, but it has been updated several times, most recently in 2020to ensure that it remains fit for purpose.

If you don’t want to dig through pages of legal documentation, you can find a lot of good – and easily understandable – information about Rental services website.

What if I own?

You’re in luck, thanks for bringing it up. The same legislation applies.

Why was the law updated in 2020?

The government said it wanted to ensure good faith relations between tenants and landlords, ensuring landlords were always protected while those living in properties received fair treatment.

Cool. But what does all this mean?

To begin with, the government removed the possibility of termination without cause on periodic rental contracts. This means that if you are on a recurring tenancy, your landlord must provide a valid reason if they want to end the tenancy. In most cases, you will have 90 days to leave the property, but in certain circumstances – such as if the landlord wishes to move back into the rental property themselves – you will have 63 days to leave. It is no longer acceptable for you to be kicked out of a recurring tenancy without an explicit reason or with little warning.

Landlords, you don’t have to worry either: you can always chase away unruly tenants. For example, landlords will still be able to terminate leases for a range of “just and justified” reasons, such as anti-social behavior. They could also evict someone for being at least three weeks behind on rent.

Speaking of rent… how many times can it be increased? Is there a limit to how much it can increase?

Your rent can only be increased once every 12 months (previously it was once every six months). This takes effect from the day you move into your property, not the start of the calendar year. You will also receive at least 60 days notice of any rent increases. There is no limit on how much your rent can increase. Often, but certainly not always, increases are in line with the broader housing market.

The upward and downward forces of the rental market are working in favor of tenants (Photo: Getty Images; additional design: Tina Tiller)

I want to hang a stylish gallery wall in my living room. Can my landlord stop me?

No – at least not in most cases. Under current legislation, tenants are allowed to make minor changes as long as they can be returned to substantially the same condition when the property is vacated. This means you should almost always be able to hang pictures and mirrors, or install baby safety gear, with no problem. It’s worth asking your landlord first, but if he denies your request, you can push back (unless you’re asking to knock down a wall or something).

Repel? How?

The first thing to do is always raise your concerns directly with the landlord or property manager. Often a simple e-mail explaining the problem will be enough to find an appropriate solution. If you cannot reach a diplomatic resolution, the Lease Court is always an option.

Speaking of delicate subjects: should I have my carpet cleaned by a professional before moving?

Nope! Many rental agreements will include it, but you don’t (I repeat: don’t) have to follow. The legal obligation is simply to leave the property in reasonably clean and tidy condition. Of course, if you left a huge dirty spot on the carpet, calling in a professional cleaner will probably be a good thing unless you want a big bill. You can find more examples of frequently requested, but unenforceable contract clauses on the Rental services website.

For more on what “reasonably clean and tidy” means – and how some owners piss – check out Toby Morris’ latest Side Eye.

Cleaning a rental to a spotless standard in hopes of getting your deposit back is a familiar sentiment for renters – but do landlords expect unfair standards? (Photo: Toby Morris)

How often can my apartment be inspected?

This is another often abused rental area, so here’s everything you need to know. The maximum frequency of inspections is once every four weeks and inspections must take place during normal daylight hours (8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.). Much like when you’re expecting a plumber, you often won’t know exactly when your landlord is going to show up that day, but they should provide at least 48 hours notice.

Let’s go back a bit: What are my rights when applying for a property? What should I reveal?

Great question – and one we tackled on The Spinoff this week. As Chris Schulz wrote, landlords are allowed to ask you about things like pets, lawn mowing and bail payments – but they are not allowed to ask about your race, gender, sexual orientation , your gender identity, relationship status, disabilities, age, political views or employment status.

One thing that is also prohibited, but which may surprise you if you have already applied for a rental: prospective tenants cannot be asked to provide copies of bank statements.

Surely these days it’s easy to find a rental that allows pets?

As Charlotte Muru-Lanning wrote for The Spinoff, recent legislative changes have unfortunately not made it easier for pet owners to find rental property. In short, the government felt the subject was too contentious to be amended. Some rentals allow pets, but you’ll need to check with the owner first.

The 2022 rental week runs from September 27 to October 2. Read the best of our rental coverage here.

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