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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 $100,000. 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 on the Tenancy Services website – get more information or apply online here (or, go to www.tenancy.govt.nz and search “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 80, 93, 95, 95A, 96, 97, 98, 104

Tenancy Tribunal hearings are less formal than the courts. 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. It’s usually more effective to have witnesses give their evidence in person, rather than bringing letters or statements.

The two sides usually don’t have a lawyer or representative and instead represent themselves – lawyers or representatives are only allowed in limited situations, like where the amount being disputed is more than $6000.

You can bring a support person with you.

You should bring all documents or other material that supports your claim (your “evidence”) – for example, your tenancy agreement, bank statements, rent books, and any notices that either side have given the other (with two extra copies of everything for the adjudicator and the other party).

The Tenancy Tribunal adjudicator will make a decision about the dispute and put this in writing (this is called an “order”). The decision is legally binding: you and the landlord have to follow it.

The hearing is usually open to the public. If you don’t go to the hearing, your case could be dismissed.

You can get your name and identifying details removed from the official records with a suppression order, unless the Tenancy Tribunal decides it is justified for your details to be made public. If your claim was successful, the Tribunal will very likely grant name suppression. Even if your claim is unsuccessful, the Tribunal will usually only decline a request for name suppression if your conduct was particularly bad.

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

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

Apply for a rehearing with the Tenancy Tribunal

If something went wrong with the Tribunal process, you can apply to the Tribunal for a rehearing. For example, if you weren’t notified of the hearing, or if there’s new evidence that would change the outcome of the hearing.

You have 5 working days to apply for a rehearing with the District Court, and its free to do so. You’ll have to give your reasons for applying.

Appeal the decision to the District court

You can challenge the Tenancy Tribunal decision by appealing it to the District Court if the Tribunal order was for money or work worth $1000 or more. You can challenge it on the grounds that the Tribunal got the facts wrong, or got the law wrong, or both.
You have 10 working days to apply for an appeal with the District Court, and it costs $200 to do so.

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 hear the whole case all over again and consider what the correct decision should have been – instead, the appeal judge started with the Tenancy Tribunal’s decision and simply 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 “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 Case: [2017] NZDC 17207 Case: [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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Tenancy and housing

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Tenancy Services – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

MBIE’s Tenancy Services section provides information to tenants and to landlords. It also provides dispute-resolution services.

Website: www.tenancy.govt.nz
Tenancy advice: 0800 83 62 62 (0800 TENANCY). Free translation services are available.
Bond enquiries: 0800 737 666. Free translation services are available.

Ministry of Social Development – Work and Income (WINZ)

Work and Income assess eligibility for social housing provided by Kāinga Ora and other registered community housing providers. WINZ also calculates income-related rent for social housing and conducts tenancy reviews.

Website: www.workandincome.govt.nz/housing/index.html
Phone: 0800 559 009
Email: www.workandincome.govt.nz/housing/nowhere-to-stay/index.html
Email: www.workandincome.govt.nz/housing/find-a-house/who-can-get-public-housing.html
Email: www.workandincome.govt.nz/housing/find-a-house/apply-for-public-housing.html

Kāinga Ora (formerly Housing New Zealand)

Kāinga Ora manages New Zealand’s public housing and places people in public homes.  Kāinga Ora’s website provides information for existing and prospective tenants.

Website: www.kaingaora.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 801 601
Office locations: kaingaora.govt.nz/our-locations
When to contact Kāinga Ora vs Work and Income resource: kaingaora.govt.nz/tenants-and-communities/renting-a-home

Note: to apply for a Kāinga Ora home, you need to contact Work and Income – “Ministry of Social Development – Work and Income (WINZ)” above.

Tenancy Tribunal

The Tenancy Tribunal can help you if you have an issue with a tenant or landlord that you can’t solve yourself. The Tribunal will hear both sides of the argument and can issue an order that is legally binding.

Information on how to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal: www.tenancy.govt.nz/disputes/Tribunal/making-an-application

Aratohu Tenant Advocacy

The Aratohu Tenant Advocacy is a comprehensive online resource that provides support and guidance to tenants and their advocates.

Website: tenant.aratohu.nz

Tenants Protection Association Auckland (TPA)

The Tenants Protection Association provides advocacy and support to renters in Auckland.

Website: tpaauckland.org.nz
Phone: 09 360 1473

Manawatū Tenants’ Union

The Manawatū Tenants’ Union provides advocacy and support to renters in the Manawatū region.

Website: www.mtu.org.nz
Email: info@mtu.org.nz
Phone: 06 357 7435

Renters United

Renters United is an organisation for renters in Wellington. They focus on organising renters and campaigning to make renting better for everyone.

Website: rentersunited.org.nz
Online contact form: rentersunited.org.nz/contact
Instagram: www.instagram.com/fairrentnow
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rentersunitednz

Community Housing Regulatory Authority

The Community Housing Regulatory Authority registers and regulates community housing providers.

Website: chra.hud.govt.nz
Email: CHRA@hud.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 141 411

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)

CAB provides free, confidential and independent information and advice.  See CAB’s website for valuable information on a range of topics.

Website: www.cab.org.nz
Phone: 0800 367 222
Facebook: www.facebook.com/citizensadvicenz

Find your local CAB office: www.cab.org.nz/find-a-cab

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