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Illegal things landlords do without realising

23 February 2018

Photo: Skippers Bridge Queenstown. by Bernard Spragg. NZ

Most landlords are genuinely trying to do their best at managing their rental properties. However, nobody is perfect. Sometimes inexperience and unfamiliarity with the ever-changing tenancy law lead to mistakes and actions that could be considered illegal.

Here are some things landlords might not know they're doing wrong. Understanding them will help to avoid unintentional actions, upsetting good tenants and keeping on the right side of the law.

- Entering your rental property without giving a proper notice

The intentions could be completely innocent - fixing a maintenance issue or conducting a quarterly property inspection. However, entering the tenant's home without providing sufficient notice and without obtaining tenants permission is breaking the law. Notice periods vary depending on the reasons for entry. Landlords generally need to give at least 24-hour notice to gain access to the property to fix something or to let workers in and only do it between hours of 8 am and 7 pm. Inspection requires 48-hour notice.

Exceptions: Landlords don't need to give the notice to access the land to mow the lawns or clean gutters (if landlords are looking after these tasks as per tenancy agreement). Permissions to enter the house are also not required in emergency situations (e.g. serious flooding concern or gas leak) and if the landlord has a Tenancy Tribunal order.

- Denying a tenancy to people with children, people of a certain race or unemployed tenants

There is a big difference between refusing to grant a tenancy or even showing a property to someone because they are missing certain personal qualities the landlord is after and denying a tenancy to people based on their age, marital status, employment status or politician opinions. The landlord has the right to screen tenants and can have an 'ideal tenant' in mind. However, the criteria should be focused on the actual qualities - being reliable, responsible, able to pay rent and provide references. Property owners should steer clear of stereotypes. Basing decisions on assumptions, past negative experience and personal preconceptions can be seen as discrimination and can get landlords into a lot of trouble with Tenancy Services and The Human Rights Commission.

Exceptions: It is not unlawful to refuse tenancy to someone who smokes or has pets. To see the full list of 13 prohibited grounds for discrimination, go to Humas Rights Commission

- Adding clauses to tenancy agreement requiring tenants to professionally clean carpets or adjusting notice periods

Landlords are allowed to customise and add clauses to their tenancy agreements as long as they're consistent with the law. Even if terms are added to the tenancy agreement, signed and agreed by both landlords and tenants, they are unenforceable if they contradict the Residential Tenancies Act. And so, landlords should expect tenants to leave the house in reasonably clean and tidy condition but they cannot force tenants to do more than required if it's not necessary including professionally clean carpets.

Exceptions: Some conditions you may decide to add are: no smoking, nominating number of people who can live at the property, or number and type of pets allowed.

- Charging tenants a "pet bond"

In NZ charging bond in excess of 4 weeks' rent is considered illegal.

- Giving 1 month's notice to increase rent

Raising rent is not illegal if it's done at the right time and the right way. A landlord must give a tenant no less than 60 days written notice. They can only increase rent annually. If the rent increase is significantly more than for similar properties, the Tenancy Tribunal can force landlords to reduce it. Also if it is a fixed-term tenancy, rent can only be increased if there is an appropriate provision in the tenancy agreement.

Exceptions: There are some situations where a landlord and tenant agree to a rent increase outside of the usual period. This only applies if improvement was made to the property or facilities provided to the tenant or a change made to the tenancy agreement that the tenant can benefit from.

- Being too busy or not having enough funds to make requested repairs

A landlord is required to keep the rental property in a habitable condition, so it is illegal to refuse to make repairs or to ignore tenants' requests, especially the ones affecting health or safety. If repairs are urgent, a tenant can organise repairs themselves and ask the landlord to reimburse them. If it's not urgent but their requests are being ignored, tenants can issue landlords a 14-days' notice to remedy. Landlords get 14 days to remedy the situation, or the matter is passed on to the Tenancy Tribunal.

- Deciding to sell the rental property and asking tenants to move out as soon as possible

The landlords can sell the property whenever they want even with tenants in. However, they can't force the tenants out. No notices can be given to end a fixed-term tenancy. Landlords have to wait until the end of the fixed term tenancy for tenants to move out. Otherwise, 90-day notice should be given if the house has been sold and the new owners want 'vacant possession' (don't want tenants).

There are many rules and regulations that landlords need to stay on top of to make sure they're not breaking the law. But it's also a good idea to keep in close communication with tenants to avoid misunderstandings and to resolve any disagreements quickly and legally.

The information contained in this article is exclusively for promotional purposes. It does not in any way constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as the basis for any legal action or contractual dealings. The information is not and does not attempt to be, a comprehensive account of the relevant law in New Zealand. If you require legal advice you should seek independent legal counsel. does not accept any liability that may arise from the use of this information.

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What the community has to say
  • KB

    I would like to know if A landlord can store stuff at the property in the garage whilst renting out the house, therefore tenants are not able to use the garage. Like garage not included for example. Yet tenants still seem to be paying the same price as if the garage was included. This doesn’t seem fair at all, and also would make me feel uncomfortable :( having a landlords stuff at my rental property :(

  • ZB

    This happens to me all the time! It’s so annoying. I end up having to rent a storage unit for things I need access to all the time, whereas they are literally storing stuff they never use

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