Fire exit blocked
Question from John updated on 1st January 1970:
My landlady has just blocked off one of my two fire exits stating that she wants the area beyond for her personal use. Our written agreement states that I can use the area. I now only have one way out. Is this legal? Also, I have not received a letter from DBH saying they have received the bond I paid. How do I find out if it's been paid or not?
Our expert responded:
It is an unlawful act for a landlord to interfere with utilities and services to the premises, except where the interference is necessary to avoid danger to anyone or to enable maintenance or repairs to be carried out. A tenant also has a duty not to cause or permit interference or render inoperative a means of escape from fire. A means of escape from fire in relation to a building is defined under the Building Act 2004 as a continuous unobstructed route of travel from any part of the floor area of that building to a place of safety. A landlord has a responsibility under s45(1)(c) of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 to comply with all requirements in respect of buildings, health and safety under any enactment that applies to the premises. You should check the local council bylaws for fire safety in your region.
If by blocking one fire exit you no longer have adequate means of escape from fire as defined above, your landlord may have committed an unlawful act and you could file a claim with the tenancy tribunal seeking an order that the exit be re-opened, and seeking an award of exemplary damages.
However, if the remaining fire exit provides adequate means of escape from fire, you should discuss the substance of your tenancy agreement with your landlord. The landlord appears to have reduced the premises you contracted for so you might negotiate a reduction in rental payable. If your agreement clearly states or was intended that you can use the area the landlord has now blocked off, your landlord has breached the tenancy agreement by prohibiting you using the premises you contracted for. You could serve the landlord with a 14 day notice to remedy that breach. If they refuse you can file an application with the tenancy tribunal seeking an order that the area be re-opened or, if you are willing, to allow the exit to remain blocked but order that the rent be reduced.
A landlord needs to lodge a bond with Tenancy Services within 23 working days of collecting it from you. The landlord should have provided you with a receipt when you paid the bond also. If 23 working days has passed I suggest you ask the landlord whether the bond has been lodged. You can call our bond advice line on 0800 737 666 to ask if any bond has been received for the tenancy address and give the names of the parties to the tenancy agreement. If no bond lodgement has been made or receipt provided, you can serve the landlord with a 14 day notice to remedy that breach. If they refuse, you can file an application to the Tenancy Tribunal claiming that the landlord has breached their duties under s19 of the Residential Tenancies Act and claim exemplary damages up to $1000. If this is a boarding house tenancy, the landlord is not required to lodge the bond with Tenancy Services if the bond is the equivalent to one week’s rent or less.
Please note, DBH no longer exists, the agency that is responsible for processing bonds is Tenancy Services, part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. You can find out more information at the website www.tenancy.govt.nz.