Moving in: Signing a tenancy agreement with a landlord
When you move into a new place that you’re renting, your landlord has to provide you with a written tenancy agreement, which has to deal with certain issues.
The tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you and the landlord. If your landlord doesn’t do something they’ve agreed to in it, you can take them to the Tenancy Tribunal (see: “Problems with your landlord: What you can do”).
Two kinds of tenancy agreements: Indefinite and fixed-term
Your agreement will be one of the following two kinds:
- Indefinite (“periodic”) tenancies – A “periodic tenancy” is one that just keeps going until either you or the landlord gives notice to the other that you want to end it. There’s no fixed end date. If your agreement says nothing at all about when it will end, it’s a periodic tenancy.
- Fixed-term tenancies – A fixed-term tenancy lasts for a set time, like six months or one year. It has a start date and an end date recorded in the agreement.
A fixed-term tenancy automatically becomes an indefinite (periodic) tenancy when the end date is reached, unless you give notice to the landlord saying you don’t want the tenancy to continue. This has to be done 28 days before your fixed-term ends. You can also agree on something else with the landlord, like another fixed-term tenancy, but if you do not want to agree, it becomes indefinite (periodic).
Landlords have to provide a written agreement
Your tenancy agreement has to be in writing. It needs to be signed by both you and the landlord. The landlord must give you a copy of the agreement with their signature on it before the tenancy starts. If you renew the tenancy or if there are any changes, those also have to be put in writing.
This rule about the agreement being in writing is there to protect tenants. If your tenancy agreement isn’t in writing, or if it’s written but not signed, you still have all the same minimum rights that tenants have under the Residential Tenancies Act, and you landlord can be fined for not having a written agreement. Landlords can’t get around their minimum obligations under this Act by avoiding having a written agreement.
If you do only have a spoken agreement, the terms of your agreement will be the rights and responsibilities set down in the Act, plus whatever you’ve agreed to verbally with your landlord.
Note: More than one person can sign the tenancy agreement. If several of you sign it, this means that the landlord can decide to hold all of you responsible, or just one of you, when a problem comes up. (The legal term for this is that you and the other tenants who sign are each “jointly and severally liable”.)
Information that has to be in your tenancy agreement
Your tenancy agreement has to have the following minimum information in it:
- About you and the landlord:
- your full names and contact addresses, including mobile numbers and email addresses,
- the delivery address where formal documents can be sent to for both you and the landlord (the “address for service”). This must be a physical street address, not just a PO Box number, email address or fax number – although those can be given as well, and
- whether you, the tenant, are under 18.
- About the flat or house:
- the address of the flat or house,
- any furniture, curtains or other fittings such as washing machines that go with the place,
- a signed statement from the landlord saying what insulation the place has, including where and what type it is. Ceiling and underfloor insulation is the minimum requirement for all tenancies, and
- a signed statement from the landlord saying that they will comply with the healthy homes standards plus information about their level of compliance, if the tenancy agreement was signed on or after December 2020. For more on the healthy homes standards, see: “Living in your house or flat: Rights and obligations”.
- Key dates:
- the date the tenancy agreement is signed,
- the date the tenancy starts, and
- if it’s a fixed-term tenancy, the date the tenancy ends.
- Rent and bond:
- the rent, how often it will be paid, and the bank account it will be paid into (or the place where it will be paid if it’s not going directly into an account), and
- the amount of any bond.
- whether the property is insured, and if so, how much you need to pay if you damage the property (the “excess”), and
- the landlord must also tell you that a copy of the insurance policy is available for you to see upon request.
That is just the minimum information that has to be in the agreement. Other things can be included as well, so long as they don’t try to take away rights that you have under the Residential Tenancies Act.
What if my agreement says something different from what’s in the Residential Tenancies Act?
If the tenancy agreement includes better conditions for the tenant than what is required by the Residential Tenancies Act, the agreement overrides the Act. If the tenancy agreement includes worse conditions for the tenant, the Act overrides the agreement.
For example, if the agreement says the landlord only has to give you one month’s notice to end the tenancy, instead of the 90 days required by the Act, then that clause in your agreement doesn’t have any legal effect – the landlord still has to give you 90 days’ notice, just the same as if it said 90 days in your agreement.
On the other hand, if your agreement says the landlord has to give you 120 days’ notice (four months), the clause does have legal effect, and the landlord has to follow it. This is because it’s better for you than the minimum 90-day period required by the Act.
Property inspection reports: Do one when you move in
Before you sign the tenancy agreement, it’s a good idea to go through the place with the landlord and fill out a Property Inspection Report – sometimes also called a “condition report”. Take photos and videos of the condition of each room and write down if there is any furniture, appliances or other things provided by the landlord (called “chattels”). This will make sure you both agree on the state of the property before you move in. It will also help avoid arguments later on about, for example, whether something was already worn or damaged before you moved in.
Tenancy Services provide a standard tenancy agreement that also includes a property inspection form (see: “Where to go for more support” at the bottom of this page). Most landlords use this form, but if your landlord doesn’t, you should get a copy of the property inspection form from Tenancy Services and complete it yourself. Save photos and videos of the property as evidence of the state of the property when you moved in.
Discrimination and unfair treatment
It’s illegal for a landlord to treat you differently as a tenant or potential tenant because of your race, your gender or sex (including if you’re trans), your religious beliefs, because you’re queer, because you have a disability, because you’re having a baby, or because you’re on a benefit. For more information, see: “Discrimination“.
This protects you when, for example, a landlord refuses to rent you a place on one of those grounds. It will also protect you if you’ve already moved in and your landlord then finds out something about you – for example, that you’re pregnant – and they give you notice to move out.
Discrimination by landlords is treated very seriously in tenancy law. Tenants can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to be paid compensation by the landlord. Tenants can also ask the Tribunal to order the landlord to pay an extra amount as punishment for the discrimination, called “exemplary damages”. This can be up to $4,000.
While compensation is a payment for the loss or harm caused to the tenant, “exemplary damages” are to punish the landlord and discourage them from doing something similar again.
Example: Discrimination because you’re on a benefit (“Employment status”)
Case: Tenancy Tribunal, Hamilton, 4121958
The landlord ended the tenancy because they thought that the tenant and her husband had lied about their work status and they were getting a benefit from Work and Income (WINZ). They thought this because the tenant had asked the landlord to consider becoming a WINZ provider, which would make it easier for tenants on a benefit to pay bond.
After the landlord tried to end the tenancy, The tenant took the landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal, claiming that her rights to be free of discrimination on the grounds of her employment status had been breached.
In fact, both the tenant and her partner were working, but the details of this mistake didn’t impact the Tribunal’s decision. The Tenancy Tribunal said that, under the law, landlords aren’t allowed to make decisions based on whether or not they think you’re working. The Tribunal said “The Residential Tenancies Act and the Human Rights Act make it clear that whether or not someone is employed, or receives a benefit or ACC, is not relevant to tenancy decisions.”
The landlord had to pay the tenant compensation
In this case, the tenant was applying for compensation for this discrimination. The Tribunal ordered the landlord to pay her $550 in compensation (as well as additional compensation for some other reasons). The Tribunal also said that the landlord’s notice to end the tenancy was legally invalid, and the tenant was allowed to stay in the flat.
The Tenancy Tribunal noted that because the tenant hadn’t applied for exemplary damages, it had dealt with it only as a claim for compensation.
They said that because the landlord had been inexperienced, wasn’t aware that what she had done was illegal, and that she’d been “open and frank” at the Tribunal hearing, it’s possible that the Tribunal wouldn’t have awarded exemplary damages, even if the tenant had asked for them. The Tribunal said this is because exemplary damages are usually intended to punish particularly bad, deliberate behaviour.
If you have experienced discrimination from your landlord, you can choose to complain to either the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act or to the Tenancy Tribunal under the Residential Tenancies Act.
What information can landlords collect from potential tenants?
If you’re looking at a place being offered for rent by a landlord, they can only collect information that’s needed to decide whether you’d be a suitable tenant. They can’t collect any other information. For more information, see: “Rules for when people collect information about you”.