set of new keys on a tenancy agreement

Today, phase two of the new tenancy law reforms comes into effect. And hallelujah for that. 

Tenants are now free to hang pictures, put up shelves, even potentially paint a wall, with or without their landlord’s permission, and can’t be moved on without a justifiable reason. If the property owner wants to sell, they’ll need to give 3 months’ notice and follow up with an actual sale. Fixed-term tenancies roll over into periodic unless there’s a formal arrangement made, etc. 

The Spinoff has a cheat-sheet on the swathe of new rules here, which stipulate, in short, for more security and dignity of tenure. They’re a small step towards enabling tenants in New Zealand to live as adults in the housing they pay so handsomely for.

To begrudge us that would be a patronising act of bad faith. 

It’s not just that as renters in this country, we pay more, proportionally, of our incomes for shelter than homeowners do, and for a comparatively lesser quality of housing too. It’s that often we’re forced to live within a landlord’s sentimental attachment to the past or within their fixed idea of a property’s value based on private investment returns on a spreadsheet. 

When you can’t make the ‘house’ you live in a ‘home’, you can’t take ownership for it. When the rug could be pulled from under your feet at any moment, it’s hard not to live as a transient (why prune the roses when you may not see them bloom?), even if you’re lucky enough to clock up the seasons or even years in one place.

To find, apply and be accepted for a suitable new abode, packing up house and moving a family is a massive, stressful undertaking. Extending that period out from 42 to 63-90 days makes that just a little more humane. While the ‘no cause’ clause will mean fewer renters’ lives are at the mercy of a property owner’s whim and the vicissitudes of the market.

With home-ownership rates the lowest they’ve been for 70 years and soaring house prices ($700,000 – the median cost of a house in Napier and Hastings now) ensuring the privilege will only concentrate further into fewer, wealthier hands, long-term/life-long renters across the spectrum (families, older folk, young professionals) will increasingly become the norm. 

Our rental system – designed in the 1980s when social housing was abundant, home-ownership high and renters of private properties were mostly transient workers or young, unmarried folk – is not only out of step with the times, for too long it’s been out of line.

Landlords who acknowledge and relate to their tenants as living, breathing human beings, no less deserving of dignity than themselves, do all this already without the law – they are amenable to their tenants making their house a home; they give reasonable notice with fair rationale; they’re willing to negotiate a workable arrangement. 

Yes, there’s always the risk of signing up a no-good tenant, just as there is always the chance your landlord is an arsehole. You can’t mitigate social risk completely. But where there’s mutual respect, there can be room for mutual responsibility.  

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  1. What an emotional diatribe. No attempt made to look evenly at both sides of the situation although the last two paragraphs are more reasonable. The landlord cannot reasonably stop a tenant repainting to their taste, but the tenant has to return the repaint to the original upon leaving. Can anyone see this happening! There is no bond required to allow for this to happen. The rewrite of the act is a very poorly thought through piece of legislation forced through parliament with no thought of unexpected consequences.

  2. I agree with all the above – but – I still feel that there should be a clause in the Act to allow for an immediate eviction if the tenant is involved in crime (such as setting up a P Lab), causing real aggravation to neighbours with threatening behaviour, destruction of property etc. Allowing such people 60 – 90 days before eviction only allows them lots of time to do more damage to the property or other people. By the same token any landlords that are “arseholes” should have the full weight of the law come down on them as well. I strongly believe that all tenancies should be equal in rights for both parties – no problems should mean happy tenants and happy landlords – any problems need to be dealt with immediately – not after some elongated wait period which only serves to aggravate the position.

  3. Dear Bay Buzz, your columnist on the subject of new tenancy regulations seems to be somewhat emotional (therefore biased) and but superficially informed. The outcomes of these changes are not all chocolates and roses for tenants and adversely affects law-abiding citizens. Here are just a few examples. All regulation results in compliance costs and small businesses such as providing accommodation are obliged to pass these on increasing the financial difficulties many tenants find themselves in. The quasi-governmental inspectorate is largely un-policed (who watches the watcher). Fees for their services vary nation-wide (over $200) in Auckland and whom in some cases are tendering quotes for remedial work alongside issued reports. There is a clear lack of separation here creating issues of fiduciary care and profiteering. Work not required by Law such as air recirculation systems are being recommended and quoted for under the guise of associated legitimacy. I would estimate rent increases for new tenants to have risen at least $80.00 per week as a direct result of this legislation.

    Also problematic for new tenants are the rules around eviction. Property managers will now be even more careful letting to anyone without good references. If you’ve been a bit of an idiot in the past, that past may well haunt you because managers are much less likely to give you the scope to prove you’re a reformed character. The new eviction restrictions also impact on neighbours who might loose free enjoyment of their own properties (noisy parties, intimidation) as well. This is most problematic in apartment buildings because NZ Police are reluctant to attend incidents of verbal and physical abuse in privately owned buildings, having taken the stance such problems should be sorted by the Body Corporate. Bodies Corporate can only react by employing security staff, and a lot are required for multi-storied buildings, the costs of which are shared by all owners, whether or not they are directly affected.

    Nowhere in this article are the responsibilities of tenants discussed. May I suggest your columnist visits the Tenancy Tribunal’s website? Perhaps she could start with the need to keep properties well ventilated to prevent human-induced mould?

    Penultimately, a number of owners are tiring of continual one-sided regulation and selling-up, reducing the letting stock. The housing shortage is so acute, this side-effect will be of very limited benefit to new home buyers and can only exacerbate tenants woes.

  4. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate the engagement on the new Rental Law issue.
    Yes, this was a short opinion piece and not subjected to the rigour of my usual feature-length analysis, but no, it was not “superficially informed”.
    I make no apology for taking the perspective of renters – you speak of bias but you will find that when it comes to reporting on housing issues NZ media more often than not gravitates towards the perspective of property owners (see this RNZ Mediawatch report, for example), while the policies and priorities of successive governments (this one included) are heavily weighted towards home owners.
    Obviously, we need more social housing – there will always be those ill-suited to a private tenancy arrangement – and, along with affordable housing and more of it, we need to consider shifting some of that burden of accommodation provision from the shoulders of individual ‘mum and dad investors’, not all of whom are equipped for the job, to well-regulated, professional entities. And that’s not just my opinion.
    I am under no illusion whatsoever that these new tenancy concessions will magically resolve the rental/housing situation for NZ renters. I’ve no doubt that some landlords will pass on extra costs as a result or scramble out of the rental market altogether. I’ve no doubt the crisis and desperation will continue to escalate. But I find it morally unjustifiable to use that as argument for why we shouldn’t give tenants in this country some small measure of dignity and security of tenure.
    This is not about chocolates or roses.
    New Zealand has some of the weakest tenancy rights in the developed world. Germany, in contrast, has some of the strongest, and with those rights comes clear, regulated responsibilities, as well as a standard of living and social status that is equal to a homeowner’s. We’re a long way from that.
    In recent weeks in the lead-up to these changes, I’ve witnessed abysmal treatment of decent, conscientious, upstanding citizens by landlords who have operated within their rights to the letter of the law as it stood before 11 Feb – it’s an abuse of power (however unconscious) and it has to stop.
    Ultimately what I’m saying though (and surely we agree on that?) is that all parties deserve to be seen and treated as adults, with all that being adult entails.

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