Landlords' concerns about new tenancy laws based on 'misinformation' - tenant group

A tenants' rights group is dismissing landlords' concerns they won't be able to evict unruly tenants, saying there's been a lot of "misinformation" spread about how the new laws work. 

And despite the latest changes to the Residential Tenancies Act giving tenants more rights and security of tenure, landlords are confident property remains a good investment in the long-term. 

From Thursday, the second phase of the Government's overhaul of tenancy law came into force. Tenants can now make minor changes to their rental and get fibre installed without their landlord's permission. Landlords can't boot people out of their homes without cause, and will have to provide evidence of repeated antisocial behaviour if that's their reason.

Other changes include banning rental bidding, name suppression for successful parties at the Tenancy Tribunal (on application) and fixed-term tenancies automatically becoming periodic unless otherwise agreed (a full list of the new changes can be found here). 

Kristin Sutherland, president of the Auckland Property Investors' Association, told The AM Show on Thursday the change "certainly makes it harder" for landlords to get rid of bad tenants. 

"We have to issue three notices within a three-month or 90-day period, and at that point we can take it to the tribunal and potentially get rid of our tenant... We have been hearing a lot of talk from our members about the evidence we're going to need at tribunal level - because that hasn't played out yet we don't know what that's going to be."

Like any law passed by Parliament, just how the courts interpret it remains to be seen. Sutherland tried calling the Tenancy Tribunal for more guidance, without luck.

"I called and got a message saying 'sorry, we're busy - we can't take your call now' and it hung up. That's a bit of a problem if we're not resourcing... Until some of these cases are tested in the tribunal, we don't know how it's going to play out." 

Penny Arthur and Kristen Sutherland.
Penny Arthur and Kristen Sutherland. Photo credit: The AM Show

Antisocial tenants 

In the past, with enough notice landlords could evict tenants for any reason - all they had to do was give the required notice. Now it can only be if the landlord intends to live in the property, carry out significant renovations, are selling it, or if the tenant has repeatedly failed to pay rent or engaged in repeated antisocial behaviour. 

Sutherland fears getting evidence of three incidents of antisocial behaviour inside of 90 days could be difficult, particularly if it relies on neighbours giving evidence.

"We have been hearing a lot of talk from our members about the evidence we're going to need at tribunal level - because that hasn't played out yet we don't know what that's going to be. Potentially it's going to be neighbours turning up and that could be quite a nervous situation. 

"We've had members who will need evidence from neighbours there - the Tenancy Tribunal is not just taking their word for it. That's going to be a tricky situation. You may potentially still need to live next door to that person if that tribunal decision doesn't go your way. It's an unknown time and there's a lot of uncertainty."

Penny Arthur of the Tenants Protection Association Christchurch says the three-strikes in 90 days rules only applies to antisocial behaviour, not other breaches of the law or tenancy agreement. 

"Where a landlord comes around and finds the house has been damaged, that's obvious-  that's pretty clear. You take photos of that, you've got proof of that damage occurring. That's not covered by the antisocial rules - you can make that application as a landlord straight away.

"This [idea] that we have to now wait three months before we can do anything isn't quite correct - all the existing rules around a tenant causing damage or breaching the tenancy agreement still exist. Those haven't changed."

She's urging landlords to chill out, saying most of them are good - as are most tenants. 

"One of the fears people have got is 'how is this going to affect me when we've done nothing wrong in the past?' On paper, it shouldn't affect those situations. For most landlords and most tenants they'll just carry on today as they were yesterday - nothing will change for them.

"It's the landlords that you don't see, it's the landlords that we hear about... those are the ones that are really going to be affected by this. And that's not a bad thing - those are the ones that are going to struggle because they've been pretty lax for all these years anyway."

Laws set to be tested 

Arthur agrees with Sutherland that the real impact of the law changes won't be known until they're tested in the Tenancy Tribunal - including how new rules allowing tenants to make minor changes will work. 

The new law states it is "unreasonable for a landlord to withhold consent to a minor change to premises", defining a minor change as posing no more than a low risk of material damage to the property, doesn't require regulatory consent and can be easily reversed. 

Arthur says landlords who think tenants can do whatever they want have been misinformed - for example, a tenant still can't do anything as minor as changing the curtains "without permission". 

"At the moment it feels like all the balls are in the air and we're waiting for them to fall and see where they lie."

Sutherland said despite landlords' "nervousness" about the changes, she doubted they would deter investors.

"At the end of the day, I still believe that property investment is a good investment. The rules change and it doesn't make it easier, it certainly doesn't, but I think landlords need to make sure they get educated about what they are. Follow the legislation - that's what we have to do... it's still, long-term, a good investment."

Further changes are coming in August, including making it easier for landlords to evict tenants who get physically violent towards them, and victims of family violence to terminate tenancies without financial penalty.

'Need to go further'

Renters United, another tenants' rights group, wants more.

"These new regulations are a step in the right direction, but I feel like they do need to go further," spokesperson Geordie Rogers told Newshub. "Tenants now have added security for their tenures and more flexibility to make their rental a home, but more needs to be done before they're no longer considered second-class citizens."

He wants something done about long-term tenants who experience repeated rises in their rent, while the landlord doesn't do anything to improve the property. 

"One of the things that has been done is the security of tenure, but one thing that isn't covered is an ability for someone who has lived in a property for a long time to continue to afford the rent, particularly when it's being put up at no extra cost to the landlord and they're just taking the extra profits - which may be kicking someone out of their home."

He's also eagerly awaiting regulation of the property management industry.

"We're excited to see what the next steps are and we're hoping it doesn't take as long as these ones have... with Labour promising to bring in regulation of property managers, I'm really hoping that this situation for renters in New Zealand does change and does get much better."