New tenant protections come into effect

For the first time in nearly a generation, our rental laws are fit for the times, thanks to this Government’s Residential Tenancies Act reform, says Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing), Poto Williams.

“The new tenancy rules come into effect today and reflect the realities of the modern-day renting environment. Tenants are now able to make their house a home. From today it’s critical that landlords and tenants understand how the changes affect them,” says Poto Williams.

“This Government believes the updated rental laws now provide adequate protections for both tenants and landlords. The reforms have come at a time when Kiwis are renting now more than ever, including whānau and older people,” says Minister Williams.

A key focus of the reform has been to improve security of tenure and enable tenants to put down roots in their communities.

“We know that insecure tenure has significant impacts on families and older people, and is linked to negative health, education and employment outcomes,” she says.

Under the second phase of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020, landlords can no longer use “no cause” terminations for periodic tenancies. Instead, landlords must give justified grounds to end a periodic tenancy and communicate the reason to the tenant.

In addition, fixed-term tenancies will automatically convert to periodic tenancies upon expiry, unless the parties agree otherwise, the tenant gives notice, or the landlord gives notice using one of the justified grounds at the end of the fixed-term.

“This will reduce the stress many tenants feel each year where they face the prospect of having to find a new home at the end of their fixed-term tenancy,” says Poto Williams.

The Associate Housing Minister also said the Government had been concerned some tenants may be unwilling to enforce their rights in the Tribunal for fear of being blacklisted from future tenancies.

“The reform will better enable both landlords and tenants to enforce their rights without fear of reprisal by providing for name suppression of parties who are wholly or partially successful in the Tribunal upon application,” she says.

The reform will also modernise enforcement of tenancy law with the introduction of new enforcement tools for the Regulator (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment). Regulations prescribing the form of infringement notices have also been made law.

“The Government has been mindful of the need to modernise the law in a way which is proportionate. These changes get the balance right, ensuring landlords continue to have the tools they need to manage their business. Both landlords and tenants can benefit from increased security and certainty,” Poto Williams says.

Notes to Editors Other changes that come into effect today include:

  • Landlords must provide their tenants with a tenancy agreement in writing.
  • Tenants can request to assign a tenancy and this cannot be unreasonably declined. ‘Assignment’ is where a tenant finds someone to replace them in the tenancy. The person who replaces the tenant takes over all the tenant’s responsibilities under the tenancy agreement.
  • Tenants are able to make minor changes to their premises where the installation and removal of the changes is low risk. This will enable tenants to make their house a home.
  • Soliciting rental bids, a practice that exacerbates the struggles of prospective tenants who are trying to find a home, is prohibited. Landlords and agents also may not advertise rental properties with no rental price listed.
  • Landlords must facilitate fibre broadband installation upon request (unless an exemption applies) where the connection can be installed at no cost to the landlord (for example, using the Government’s Ultra-fast Broadband initiative, which provides fibre installation for free). This means that tenants will receive the employment, education and social benefits of fibre broadband, without detriment to landlords. The Tenancy Tribunal’s jurisdiction and administrative powers have been broadened; the Tribunal can now hear cases and make awards up to $100,000, where previously this was capped at $50,000.

The Government has worked across agencies on this significant reform. As the reform moves into the implementation phase, Tenancy Services will continue to provide information and support for both tenants and landlords with tools, templates and Plain English information on its website. For more information on the above changes, and other changes taking effect from 11 February 2021, see tenancy.govt.nz/law-changes and subscribe to the Tenancy Services newsletter for updates.