Tenants’ rights take centre stage

Thursday 11 August 2016

The movement to boost tenants’ rights, along with rental property standards, has stepped firmly back into the legislative spotlight this week.

By Miriam Bell

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill was drawn from the Parliamentary ballot today for its first reading.

The Bill would set minimum standards for warmth, dryness and safety in all rental properties, but – more significantly - it contains a host of changes to tenancy standards and regulations.

These include:
• Removing the obligation on tenants to pay leasing fees.
• Setting a default of three years for fixed-term tenancies - while maintaining the provision for both parties to opt out and set the term of their choice.
• Enforcing a 90 day notice period in the event a landlord decides to sell a tenanted property.
• Limiting rent increases to no more than once a year, regardless of tenancy type or term.
• Requiring the formula for calculating any future rent increase be included in tenancy agreement forms.
• Allowing tenants a right of first refusal when their lease expires

Turei said the Bill strengthens tenants’ rights, and would lead to stable, long-term tenancies that are good for both renters and landlords.

“The home ownership rate is reducing and more families are renting. Those families’ rights need be protected so they too can have a stable and secure home life.

“Families who rent often find themselves pushed around from house to house, and their kids moved from school to school, unable to settle down.”

In many other countries, particularly in Europe, long-term tenancies in quality, warm homes are the norm, Turei said.

“Landlords benefit too when tenancies are stable and long term, because the property gets looked after and there are no time gaps when tenants aren’t paying rent.”

The Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill needs to pass its first reading in Parliament to progress further.

But it is not just the Green Party who has tenants’ rights in its sights this week, its Opposition partner, the Labour Party, has also had a focus on rental housing issues.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little’s Healthy Homes Guarantee No 2 Bill is currently before the Government Administration Select Committee and public submissions are now underway.

The Bill aims to set minimum standards around insulation, heating, ventilation and drainage which all landlords would have to comply with before they could legally rent out their properties.

Little said it toughens up the weak standards in the government’s new Residential Tenancies Amendment Act.

It does this by closing the loophole which allows landlords to retain redundant 38-year-old insulation levels and adds new requirements for heating and ventilation, he said.

Cold, damp and unhealthy rental properties have been a hot topic in recent times and critics of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act believe it does not go far enough to address the problem.

Little said leading medical experts making submissions to the Select Committee had thrown their weight behind his Bill, saying it would improve the health of Kiwi kids.

Another submitter, Christian Social Services policy advisor Paul Barber, told the Select Committee the cost of making rental homes warm is tiny in comparison to the costs incurred because children are getting sick.

The National Party has already said that it won’t be supporting Little’s Bill.

However, the Bill passed its first reading in Parliament by 61-60, so it is likely to be fiercely contested in its passage through the House.

Comments from our readers

On 13 August 2016 at 11:16 am jpaynter said:
In Europe's longer term tenancies, the tenant pays for the fitout of the property. The rent just the basic shell, so they bear the cost of fitting the kitchen, bathroom and everything else. They tend to be therefore more responsible for maintaining the property. I'd love such a situation here. I have long term tenants (the current max is one who has been there over 15 years). I have also thrown (rarely) tenants out due to non payment of rent and in another case due to their poor attitude that affected tenants in my other flats and in the neighbouring flats. All signed a petition to rid us of the pests. How would Turei's bill help in such a situation. It seems most of the present legislation supports tenant rights, not that of the landlord. The tenancy tribunal takes this further to excess (e.g. discounting the landlors's rights in a fixed term tenancy, if the tenant wants to leave earlier). there needs to be more balance. Quite often for example, a tenant may know in advance they are planning on moving out but give the landlord the bare 21 days notice. As for having a set method for calculating rent, that would be fine if all other things remained equal. However, landlord costs keep increasing due to new legislation (such as insulation standards), excessive increases in rates, water, insurance and repair and maintenance costs. Each time GST goes up too, the landlord cannot recover this. So a magic formula may not be achievable, as it cannot forecast changes in the rules and costs.

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