Surely health and safety comes first?

Question from Shells updated on 14th August 2013:

I am a tenant and have been renting my property for nearly three years. I am less than three weeks in arrears and paying extra every week to reduce my arrears. My landlord refuses to do any repairs (some are still not resolved from beginning of my tenancy) until I have paid all arrears up to date. Can he do this? My stove top has been faulty for three years now with three faulty elements and recently caught fire after one was accidentally turned on and has given both myself and my 11-year old son electric shocks regularly. I can't even use my stove now. Also, my bathroom floor has been rotting around the shower ever since the beginning of tenancy and now has an overwhelming odour of sewage which spreads throughout the house. I worry that is sewage leak, that our water may be contaminated as the property uses bore water. With these being the most serious issues, amongst others, is this legal for a landlord to refuse repairs due to rent arrears? Sure health and safety is more important.

Our expert Alan Bruce responded:

The Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act) sets out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants who enter in to a residential tenancy agreement. The Act does not allow any party who feels that the other party is NOT meeting their responsibilities the right to be excused from meeting their obligations. The fact that you are in arrears with your rent payments does not excuse your landlord from meeting their responsibilities under the Act. The Act requires landlords to provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair, while having regard to the age and character of the premises and the period that the premises are likely to remain habitable. A landlord also has an obligation to provide tenants with a method of cooking food – such as an oven. Tenants are also required under the Act to notify the landlord of any damage to the premises or of the need for any repairs. Where repairs are required, tenants should notify the landlord in the first instance. If the landlord does not carry out necessary maintenance or repairs, the tenant may give the landlord 14 days’ written notice to remedy the breach (e.g. to carry out any necessary repairs). If the landlord does not comply with the notice, the tenant can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved. As a notice to remedy a breach must be in writing, service times must be allowed for, and a copy of the notice retained. A template for 14 days’ written notice, information and about service times and guidance on the Tenancy Tribunal process can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website (www.dbh.govt.nz). To discuss your situation further, or for further information regarding landlord and tenant responsibilities, you can visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website (as noted above), or call 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262).

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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