Tenancy law changes apply to farmers

Landlords, including farmers who provide accommodation as part of an employment package, will be affected by the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2), which is before a parliamentary select committee.

A Tenancy Services spokesman said the Bill would make three areas of changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to better manage methamphetamine contamination, liability for careless damage and the tenancy of unsuitable properties.

‘‘Methamphetamine manufacture uses highly toxic chemicals, contaminating indoor surfaces, chattels, furnishings and personal effects, which create real and serious risks to the health of occupants,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘The Bill recognises that meth contamination of properties has become a significant issue that needs clearer direction.’’

Under the Bill, landlords will have easier access to take samples for meth testing and both landlords and tenants will be able to terminate their tenancy at short notice if it is present at unsafe levels.

‘‘Standards New Zealand is working on appropriate contamination thresholds and the Bill will enable these to be legally recognised and enforceable before the Tenancy Tribunal.’’

The Bill also implements changes in respect of liability for careless damage following the Osaki Court of Appeal decision last year, which said landlords cannot recover the costs of careless damage, including the excess charge on any insurance policy.

‘‘As a result of the decision, tenants are now largely immune from the cost of the careless damage they cause in rental properties and landlords are bearing most of those costs.

‘‘Both tenant and landlord groups see this is unfair.’’

The spokesman said the changes were needed to ensure tenants had an incentive to take good care of a property, and to encourage cost-effective insurance arrangements, which would reduce disputes and litigation.

Under the Bill, tenants will be liable for the cost of their landlord’s insurance excess up to a maximum of four weeks’ rent for each incident of damage caused by carelessness.

A tenant will remain fully liable where the damage is deliberate; where the damage was caused by an act or omission that constitutes an imprisonable offence; or if the insurance money is irrecoverable because of a tenant’s act or omission.

The landlord will be liable for fair wear and tear and damage beyond the control of the tenant, such as a natural disaster.

The Bill also strengthens the law for prosecuting landlords who tenant unsuitable properties — ones that are not lawful for residential use.

‘‘Unlawful residential premises include dwellings within a property which was constructed for another purpose, such as a garage or a commercial building, or properties which do not comply with relevant building health and safety legislation.’’

A rental property could also be unlawful if the particular occupation of the premises breaches a condition of a resource consent or the relevant district plan.

‘‘These improvements to our tenancy laws will better protect responsible landlords and tenants and help our residential tenancy market function more effectively,’’ the spokesman said.

Further detail on these changes is available on the Tenancy Services website.

- by Yvonne O'Hara

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