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Landlords getting rid of tenants before new rules set in, advocacy group says

Feb 09, 2021

A tenants' advocacy group says renters are increasingly having their tenancies prematurely ended, as landlords make moves before new rules set in.

It comes as new rules for tenants and landlords set in this Thursday, bringing an end to 90-day tenancy terminations without justification.

It's the biggest shake-up for landlord-tenant relations for decades.

There are three phases to the reforms - the first came in on 11 August last year, which meant landlords could only increase the rent once a year.

The new rules coming in on 11 February are the second phase, while the third phase, which will allow tenancies to be terminated if family violence or landlord assault has occurred, will come in on 11 August this year.

The second phase, however, is the most substantial of the three.

It means tenants will be able to make minor changes to the property - for example replacing curtains, or hanging up pictures - and landlords can't decline it.

All rental properties will have to show a rental price, so tenants can't bid on them - which often drives the price up.

Additionally, name suppression will be available to those who are successful at the Tenancy Tribunal, avoiding renters who have taken their landlord to the tribunal to be blacklisted.

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) chief executive Bindi Norwell said the new RTA (Residential Tenancies Act) changes would try to get more balance between the tenants and the landlords.

"Quite frankly, they were very outdated and so they needed to be reviewed.

"So I think what they've done is made it easier for tenants and built up quite a few of their rights."

Some landlords 'can't be bothered'

Landlords have previously expressed concern about the rules, which they say forces them to relinquish control of their property, and could leave them stuck with troublesome tenants.

Tommy's Real Estate agent Nicky Cruickshank said she's noticed a number of landlords who were looking to sell.

"The serious investor that owns a few rental properties isn't selling - They're on top of it, they've got their healthy homes assessments, and they won't sell.

"It's more unfortunately probably the mum and dad investors that may have a second property as a rental [who are selling]."

The healthy home standards were one thing, but the new rules were likely to make things more difficult for landlords, she said.

You can't get rid of somebody as easily as perhaps they might have wanted to, to change tenancy, the Wellington-based real estate agent said.

"Then they're worried about tenants leaving halfway through the year where it's a lot more difficult to rent.

"Some people are worried about pets, and [if] they've just painted the house, and tenants coming in and painting over the top of it.

"So a lot of them just can't be bothered with all of that stress."

According to the TradeMe rental price index, in December, the capital's median weekly rent was a record-high $595 per week - the highest in the entire country.

Knock-on effect for renters

One of the most significant changes is the ending of 90-day tenancy terminations without justification.

"Previously, a tenant could be evicted on a 90-day notice, if they were damaging the property, or they weren't respecting the property, or not paying their rent," Norwell said.

"The landlord had the power to be able to evict them, and this just allowed them to have more control over the property.

"What's happening now is they've removed that, so now a landlord needs to provide three levels of evidence over a three month period to prove that tenants are not treating their property properly.

"Then they can go through a process with the Tenancy Services to actually get them evicted."

Christchurch-based Tenants Protection Association manager Penny Arthur said the looming deadline meant some landlords were looking to get rid of their tenants while they still can.

"We've had a lot of tenants at the moment receiving notice, right up until the 11th we are seeing it," she said.

"We just had one this morning, who, she is a little bit behind in her rent, but not massively behind, and it is something she has been re-paying.

"In that kind of situation, there's the risk to the landlord that you don't know what you're going to get, and you could end in a far worse situation."

In total, she said the number of renters coming for advice having been given a 90-day notice without cause, was up 60 percent on last year.

"Effectively, what we're potentially seeing is people actually on a merry-go-round, getting on at one point and jumping off at another.

"People who are renting still need to rent. They maybe end up in emergency housing, and at some point they'll go back into the rental market. So it is a big roundabout.

"Every landlord that's getting rid of their tenant is looking for a tenant, unless they're looking to sell."

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