Support for renters as Government bans termination of tenancies during COVID-19 lockdown

As well as an immediate freeze on rent increases, the Government is further supporting renters by banning termination of tenancies during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Housing Minister Megan Woods said the changes will "ensure that people can stay in their homes" during the four-week lockdown period, which begins at 11:59pm on Wednesday night. 

She said landlords who break the rules and try to terminate a tenancy during the next month will be breaking the law and could be fined up to $6500, in each case. 

Landlords also cannot terminate a tenancy on the grounds of a person having the coronavirus COVID-19. What's more, tenants will not be required to notify their landlord if they test positive for the virus. 

The Government is encouraging tenants, however, to advise their landlord they have COVID-19 if the landlord needs to attend the property while the tenant is self-isolating, for example, if the landlord needs to repair something. 

Tenants also cannot be evicted because the landlord or family wish to move in.

"In these unprecedented times, we encourage landlords to talk to their tenants, work together and take care of each other wherever possible," Dr Woods said. 

"Parties should try to come to an arrangement that suits them both. We need to work together and help each other to fight Covid-19."

Dr Woods said the new measures are not an excuse for tenants to abuse the system. 

"It is not acceptable for tenants to abuse the current situation by refusing to pay rent when they have the capacity to do so, causing significant property damage, or significant anti-social behaviour. 

"Tenants are still fully liable for their rent payments and any damage as we ensure that Landlords do not increase the burden on tenants."

The measures take effect within the next 24 hours.

The rent freeze applies for an initial period of six months. The protections against terminations will apply for an initial period of three months.

When can landlords evict?

Landlords will be unable to terminate existing tenancies unless limited and specific, justified, reasons apply. The Tenancy Tribunal will act as a check to ensure that contracts are terminated only on limited and specific termination grounds. 

The tribunal will be able to hold hearings by telephone or video-conference to practice social distancing. 

If a tenant substantially damages a property, the landlord can evict them. It also extends to tenants who threaten or assault the landlord, their family or the neighbours. 

The landlord can also take action if the tenant abandons the property, or "engages in anti-social behaviour", such as harassment, or causing distress. 

They can also evict a tenant who is 60 days behind paying their rent - which has been increased from 21 days. 

"The rent increase freeze will protect tenants from additional financial hardship at a time when they are more likely to already be facing financial stress," Dr Woods said. 

"Increases in rent are now prohibited under any circumstances, for the period of the legislative amendments." 

The COVID-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Legislation Bill was presented under urgency in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, to pass sweeping new powers for the Government during the lockdown period. 

It followed the Minister of Civil Defence Peeni Henare taking the unprecedented move of declaring a state of national emergency for New Zealand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An epidemic notice issued by the Prime Minister came into effect on Wednesday, just after midnight, and it will remain for three months with ongoing review, enabling the use of a number of 'special powers' in legislation.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced on Wednesday 50 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, bringing the total to 205 cases.