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Gosche Speech: Residential Tenancies Amendment

May 2 2002 Speech Notes

Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2001- First Reading


Mr Speaker, I move that the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2001 be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Bill be referred to the Social Services Select Committee.

This Bill fulfils another pre- election promise that the coverage of the Residential Tenancies Act will extend to boarding house tenancies. It also clarifies some aspects of the Act, and amends others to enhance the administration of the Bond Centre and the dispute resolution service.

A secure and safe home is a cornerstone of human well being. This Bill will stipulate the rights and obligations of boarding house landlords and tenants, and enable them to take their disputes before the Tenancy Tribunal.

Since the communal nature of living in boarding houses creates different expectations from landlords and tenants, the provisions relating to boarding house tenancies will in some respects be different to that of those governing houses and flats.

For example, boarding house landlords will have to give shorter notice periods to terminate tenancies. There will also be no obligation on boarding house landlords to lodge bonds but a tenant in a boarding house who feels that a landlord has unjustifiably retained the bond can make an application to the Tribunal.

Tenants in boarding houses often include people without family or other support, and who are frequently unable to cope with other forms of accommodation. Many are unable to negotiate fair agreements which ensure they have basic rights. Equally they may be either unwilling or unable to pursue their common law or Consumer Guarantees Act remedies when disputes do occur.

There had always been the intention in the existing legislation to cover long-term boarding houses and exclude only those that are temporary and transient. However, in practise, this has never been applied because there has always been a difficulty in defining the term temporary and transient.

Legislation introduced for the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 1996 attempted to clarify this position. However at that time the intention of the amendment was to merely remove the entire exclusion and have all boarding houses governed by the same provisions that govern general tenancies. This amendment did not come into effect because landlords raised concerns about the implications of having the same provisions as applicable to general tenancies being applied to boarding house tenancies.

Therefore, in this Bill we have taken into consideration the special characteristics of boarding houses, where the communal nature of living and the general profile of persons living in boarding houses, require provisions that are different to the general provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act. The Bill will therefore allow boarding house landlords to terminate immediately, if the tenant is deliberately causing serious damage to the premises, putting people or property in danger. It also provides for the landlord to give termination notices in other circumstances. The boarding house owner will not need to go to the Tribunal to terminate a tenancy. However, if the tenant feels at any time that the landlord is acting unjustifiably or outside of the law they can take the matter to the Tenancy Tribunal.

The legislation has also taken into consideration the boarding house tenants’ need to have flexibility, and therefore has provided for the tenant to be able to give 48 hours notice, which is significantly less than for general tenancies.

This legislation will include a definition of boarding house tenancy, so that only those boarding houses that are used by people who intend to live in it for more than 28 days are covered and not those that are used as short term holiday accommodation or casual boarding arrangements in private homes. It will also exclude student halls of residence.

One of the main advantages of this legislation will be that both boarding house landlords and tenants will be able to use Tenancy Services’ mediation and Tenancy Tribunal services to resolve their disputes. At present people can take their disputes to the Disputes Tribunal, but this is most uncommon. With boarding house tenancies coming under the Residential Tenancies Act, parties will have the benefit of a free advisory service from Tenancy Services and assistance with dealing with their disputes through specialist tenancy mediation service and if necessary the Tenancy Tribunal.

Good law can only meet its purpose if people know about it. Therefore the Ministry of Housing will be introducing a co-ordinated programme to inform support workers and organisations on the new legislation. Persons who are going into independent living following institutionalisation, will be encouraged to nominate a support person, so that boarding house owners can contact someone in case of an emergency.

Another issue that the government wishes to address is that of substandard housing. Substandard housing conditions affect the health and wellbeing of families. Statistics indicate that rental properties house mainly young people such as students, sole parents, Mäori and Pacific peoples and those on low incomes. These are often the most vulnerable people who have the greatest difficulty accessing adequate housing. If rental accommodation is substandard, it is most likely affecting the very people who are already at risk.

Under the existing provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act a tenant can go to the Tribunal and ask for a work order to get a landlord to do repairs or maintenance but there is no penalty for landlords who intentionally and continuously provide substandard housing to these people already at risk or who don’t comply with a Tenancy Tribunal ruling to carry out work on the property.

One way of ensuring that landlords do not provide substandard housing is to permit the Tenancy Tribunal to award exemplary damages (which is a penalty) against landlords who rent substandard houses. The Bill will introduce provisions that will enable the Tenancy Tribunal to award a penalty against landlords who intentionally provide substandard housing. But this will not affect landlords who provide good rental housing.

This Bill will also introduce some other amendments to the general provisions of the Act to:
 Clarify the uncertainty in interpretation of some sections of the Act. This includes confirming that landlords are liable for waste water charges and fixed charges on water, and that tenants will be liable for damage caused intentionally or carelessly even though the landlord may have taken insurance;

 Enable greater cost efficiency in the administration of the Bond Centre and the Dispute Resolution Service, by ensuring that bond refund applications are made to the Bond Centre within two months of the tenancy ending, advertising unclaimed bonds, reducing the time landlords have to spend before the Tribunal by permitting summary orders to be made by adjudicators etc;

 Make real estate agents charge the letting fee to landlords rather than tenants. Landlords choose whether to advertise their rental property with a Real Estate Agent or do so privately. Those landlords who choose to advertise through a Real Estate Agent will pay the letting fee in the same way that a vendor who sells property pays the agent a commission.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank officials who have worked on the Bill. I would especially like to thank the property investor groups and community groups who made valuable contributions to the Bill.

Mr Speaker, the objective of this Bill is not to amend the entire Residential Tenancies Act, but to make some changes so that boarding houses can be adequately covered and to also ensure that the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants are clear. Providing clarity through legislative provisions helps people to manage their relationships and reduce the number of disputes. I commend this Bill to the house.

Ends

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