Careless or intentional damage by tenants, who is responsible?

Don asks:
(updated on Wednesday, April 11th 2007)

We have moved out of a house we rented for only 6 weeks. At the end of the tenancy we were told we needed to pay for repainting two walls because of holes caused by hanging a dryer, and holes caused by mounting a security system. There were also some scratches on a polished wood floor which would need to be sanded out to be repaired, (one set of scratches covers a half meter square, the other set is less and barely visable). Ee were made to return to the house to re-clean (which we did) the window sills (which were dirty because of waterblasting after we moved out.) We have now been told we have to pay costs for refinishing the entire floor in two rooms and repainting the two walls, even though there are numerous holes left from previous tenants. This would obviously take our entire deposit of $900. Does this sound fair? It seems we should only be charged for partial proportional cost of these repairs not the entire floor and wall.

Our Experts Answer:

If a tenant is looking at hanging a clothes dryer or installing a security system it is a requirement under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 that a tenant must not ‘affix any fixture to the premises, or make any alteration; or addition of or to the premises except in accordance with the tenancy agreement or with the prior written consent of the landlord’. There is also a requirement that if any damage is caused by the removal of such a fixture that the tenant is required to inform the landlord immediately and at the option of the landlord, either repair the damage or compensate the landlord for any reasonable expenses incurred by the landlord in repairing the damage.

There is however, no requirement for the tenant to put the premises into a better condition for the landlord and as such, a tenant is only liable for the area they have caused damage to. So if the landlord decides to repaint the entire wall, especially when there is pre-existing damage, the tenant would only be liable for the relevant portion of the painting. In regards to the scratches on the wooden floor, whilst the extent of liability would be again only the area that has been damaged, it does pay to bear in mind that the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 requires that a tenant does not ‘Intentionally or carelessly damage, or permit any other person to damage, the premises’. Whilst intentional damage may be easy to identify, there is no definition of careless under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. Generally careless actions may be identified through testing them against whether a reasonable person should be able to foresee damage occurring. To talk to someone about this or other renting problems call 0800 TENANCY (0800 83 62 62).

The Department of Building and Housing provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.


Heartland Bank - Online 1.99
The Co-operative Bank - First Home Special 2.09
HSBC Special 2.25
ICBC 2.25
HSBC Premier 2.25
Kainga Ora - First Home Buyer Special 2.25
AIA 2.29
TSB Special 2.29
The Co-operative Bank - Owner Occ 2.29
SBS Bank Special 2.29
Westpac Special 2.29
Heartland Bank - Online 2.35
ICBC 2.35
HSBC Premier 2.35
TSB Special 2.49
SBS Bank Special 2.49
The Co-operative Bank - Owner Occ 2.59
BNZ - Classic 2.59
ASB Bank 2.59
AIA 2.59
China Construction Bank Special 2.65
Kiwibank Special 2.65
HSBC Premier 2.89
TSB Special 2.99
AIA 2.99
Westpac Special 2.99
ICBC 2.99
ASB Bank 2.99
China Construction Bank Special 2.99
BNZ - Classic 2.99
SBS Bank Special 3.19
Kiwibank Special 3.19
The Co-operative Bank - Owner Occ 3.19
Heartland Bank - Online 2.50
Resimac 3.39
Kiwibank - Offset 3.40
Kiwibank Special 3.40
Kiwibank 3.40
Bluestone 3.49
Select Home Loans 3.49
ICBC 3.69
The Co-operative Bank - Standard 4.40
The Co-operative Bank - Owner Occ 4.40
Kainga Ora 4.43