Communtity Law Manual | Tenancy & housing | The Tenancy Tribunal: A court to decide tenancy disputes

Problems with your landlord: What you can do

The Tenancy Tribunal: A court to decide tenancy disputes

What is the Tenancy Tribunal and what can it do?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 77, 102

The Tenancy Tribunal is a type of court that specialises in disputes between tenants and landlords. It’s faster than going to a normal court. It’s also a lot cheaper – you’ll pay an application fee of about $20 and you won’t usually have a lawyer at the tribunal hearing.

The Tenancy Tribunal has wide powers to resolve various types of tenancy disputes. This can include:

  • deciding whether there’s a legally binding tenancy agreement between the two sides
  • deciding whether an agreement is covered by the Residential Tenancies Act
  • ordering a tenant to pay overdue rent, or ordering a landlord to refund rent that’s been overcharged
  • deciding whether a notice given to end the tenancy was legally valid and who has the right to have possession of the property
  • ordering one side to do something required by the tenancy agreement, or to stop doing something that goes against the agreement
  • ordering one side to pay compensation to the other for breaching the agreement
  • ordering work to be done – for example, ordering the tenant to fix damage, or ordering the landlord to do repairs or maintenance work.

The Tenancy Tribunal can order work to be done or money to be paid up to a value of $50,000. Claims for more than this can be dealt with through the District Court.

How do I take a dispute to the Tenancy Tribunal?

You can apply online, or you can apply using a paper copy of the form, which you can get from a Tenancy Services office. The processes are explained at: www.tenancy.govt.nz/disputes/tribunal/making-an-application

It costs $20.44 to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal. If the dispute has been to mediation first, one of you will have already paid this fee.

What happens at the Tenancy Tribunal hearing?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 93, 95, 96, 97, 98

The person who hears the dispute and makes the decision for the Tribunal is called the “adjudicator”. You and the landlord both get a chance to tell them your side of the story and to answer any questions the adjudicator has. You can also bring witnesses to give evidence. The two sides usually don’t have a lawyer or representative and instead represent themselves; lawyers or representatives are only allowed in limited situations.

The hearing is usually open to the public.

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 80, 104

The Tenancy Tribunal adjudicator will make a decision about the dispute and put this in writing. The decision is legally binding: you and the landlord have to follow it.

What if I’m not happy with the Tenancy Tribunal’s decision?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, s 117; Cases: (1985) 5 NZAR 477 (HC) – [2017] NZDC 2259

You can challenge the Tenancy Tribunal decision by appealing it to the District Court. You can challenge it on the grounds that the Tribunal got the facts wrong, or got the law wrong, or both.

But to win your appeal you’ll have to persuade the District Court judge that there’s a clear and convincing reason to overturn the Tenancy Tribunal’s decision. The appeal judge will take into account that the Tribunal is an experienced specialist body that’s used to dealing with tenancy disputes, and so will tend to be cautious about overturning its decisions.

The rule that the District Court will be cautious about overturning a Tenancy Tribunal decision also applies when your landlord doesn’t like a decision that was in your favour, as shown in the following example.

Example: When can the District Court overturn a Tenancy Tribunal decision?

Case: [2017] NZDC 2259

The landlord had agreed with the tenants that they could get out of their fixed-term tenancy if they found “suitable” tenants to replace them. The original tenants found replacements who had a good credit history, could afford the rent, and had good references. However, the landlord didn’t accept those tenants, because they didn’t have a previous tenancy history and they had a child. The landlord later found other replacements, and wanted the original tenants to keep paying rent up to when this new tenancy started.

The dispute went to the Tenancy Tribunal. The Tribunal found that the landlord had been unreasonable here, that most people would have seen “suitability” as depending on credit history and references. The Tribunal decided the tenants didn’t have to pay the extra rent the landlord was claiming.

The landlord then appealed to the District Court. In line with the rules for these appeals, the District Court judge didn’t look at the whole case afresh and consider what the correct decision should have been – instead, the appeal judge started with the Tenancy Tribunal’s decision and considered whether this decision had been “open” to the Tribunal given the facts and the law. The appeal judge also took into account that the tenancy laws say the Tribunal should make decisions based on the general legal principles that apply to the case, not on strict technicalities.

In this particular case, the appeal judge decided that the decision in favour of the tenants had been one that was open to the Tenancy Tribunal and so the judge refused the landlord’s appeal.

By the way – it’s illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants on the grounds that they’ve got a child: for more information, see the chapter “Discrimination”.

How long do I have to appeal the Tenancy Tribunal’s decision?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, s 117(6); Case: [2018] NZHC 133

You’ve got 10 working days after the date of the Tenancy Tribunal’s decision to file your appeal with the District Court. There are no exceptions to this time limit, so if you’re late you lose your chance to appeal.

Rehearing by Tenancy Tribunal in special cases

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, s 105; Cases: [2017] NZDC 17207 – [2017] NZDC 13262

In some special cases, you can ask the Tenancy Tribunal to hear your case again (a “rehearing”), but they can only allow this if something important may have gone wrong with the first hearing (“a substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice”).

This will include, for example, if you were never told when the hearing was going to be, or if you couldn’t present your case properly for some reason, or if some important evidence wasn’t available the first time but is available now.

You won’t be given a rehearing simply because you disagree with the Tenancy Tribunal’s original decision.

What can I do if the landlord doesn’t follow the Tenancy Tribunal’s order?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 106, 107

The order is legally binding and you can go to the District Court to get it enforced.

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