Habitable property?

Question from Ioana updated on 9th May 2016:

I have a tenant who has been with us for some years. Already an older home, she has trashed it to become an almost unlivable home. So much so that we had a demolition date scheduled and gave her notice. We now may have to wait for demolition while funds come through.

I guess I just really need to know whether we could be liable for any health concerns or issues that the tenant says has happened as a result of them living in our property. I could not live as they do but they seem happy to. If I was certain that we couldn't be taken to court, we would be happy to leave them in the home and for them to continue to live as they have been whilst we wait for demolition. Please advise.

Our expert Allan Galloway responded:

Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords have an obligation to ensure the premises comply with all requirements in respect of health, safety, and building laws that apply to the premises. Landlords also have an obligation to ensure the premises are maintained in a reasonable state of repair while considering the age and character of the premises and the period that the premises are likely to remain habitable and available as a residential premises. Failure by a landlord to comply with these obligations is considered to be an unlawful act.

There is no obligation on a landlord to repair any damage or to reimburse the tenant for the cost of repairs where the damage (excluding fair wear and tear) is caused as a result of the tenant breaching their obligations under the Act. If the premises are still habitable, the landlord may not be liable for any problems that arise as a direct result of the damage/condition of the property that the tenant is responsible for.

However, if any issues arise as a result of the landlord not meeting their obligations, the tenant may file an application to the Tenancy Tribunal seeking recourse, which may include exemplary damages if it is deemed that an unlawful act has occurred, and compensation may be awarded by an Adjudicator. Problems may also arise if the premises are deemed to be uninhabitable but the landlord has allowed tenants to remain in occupation of the premises. Insurance policies may also be affected in such circumstances.

To determine whether the premises are habitable or not and comply with health, safety, and building requirements, you may wish to contact your local council or seek expert advice.

Furthermore, the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill is currently under consideration by Parliament, and if passed by Parliament specific amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act will be made to improve rental standards and tenancy services, including new requirements for smoke alarms and insulation in rental properties. More about the proposed changes are available on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) website here.

For further information regarding landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities, you can visit our website or subscribe to our tenancy landlord e-newsletter here

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.

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