Tenancy changes should not alarm

The lead-up to any changes that will regulate behaviour is inevitably a field day for the doomsday merchant.

Life as we know it will cease on the day whatever new rules come into force and the soothsayers declare it will be a bad thing for the complainants and society in general.

Accordingly, we are inclined to take with a grain of salt the dire predictions some landlords have raised over the changes to rental rules in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020, many of which came into being this week.

The reforms were designed to give better protections for renters and, considering there are about 600,000 households containing tenants, that is significant.

It was considered the reforms of the law, which was more than 30 years old, would align better with today’s realities.

With buying a home increasingly out of the reach of many families, it is important, as the then associate minister of housing Kris Faafoi put it last year, for renters to be able to put down roots in their community and not face the stress of continually having to find a new home.

He also pointed out the reforms come at a time when many New Zealanders face financial challenges due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the contentious areas for some landlords is the removal of their ability to end a periodic tenancy just by giving 90 days’ notice, but there are other specific termination grounds available including those to get rid of tenants behaving in an anti-social manner. However, some landlords consider the process is too complicated and lengthy.

It has been disappointing to read claims some landlords have been turfing out tenants before the changes came into effect. They may be mistakenly taking a gamble on their next tenants being an improvement.

Another area of concern for some has been the change that means landlords cannot unreasonably deny a tenant’s request to make minor changes to the property — putting up shelves, hanging a painting, and so on — but such changes, including painting, would need to be reversed at the end of the tenancy. There are fears some tenants will go too far and that it may be hard to get the restoration money.

On the other hand, it seems unreasonable not to allow tenants to make their homes more homely, particularly when they may be living in them for years. Good landlords have always understood that.

We welcome the banning of bidding wars for rentals, although we hope it does not turn out to be a damp squib. Now, rental properties must not be advertised without the rent listed and landlords are not allowed to invite or encourage hopeful tenants to bid on the rental. This does not stop a prospective tenant voluntarily offering more money than listed and the landlord accepting it, a situation which would not be illegal. In the overheated rental market, we expect some people desperate for accommodation will be prepared to pay more than the stated price.

There will be mixed feelings about the ability of the Tenancy Tribunal to suppress names of parties when making decisions on disputes which come before it, but it is obviously too soon to make pronouncements about how well this might work. Given the recent publicity about some landlords assembling dubious ‘‘bad tenants’’ lists, which have come to the attention of the privacy commissioner, we can understand why some tenants might be nervous about being named in tribunal decisions.

There will be much for both tenants and property owners to come to grips with following the law change. It would be entering fantasy territory to expect the changes will act like a magic wand making all tenants fastidious and fabulous and all landlords compassionate and magnanimous. However, we would hope if most tenants and landlords act calmly and play by the rules, they, and ultimately their communities, will be better off.

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