Coronavirus and the Law

Coronavirus and the Law

COVID-19 Housing and Sleeping Rough FAQs

Do I have to tell my landlord that I or someone I live with has COVID-19?

No.

Do I have to tell my landlord that I or someone I live with is self-isolating?

No.

Can my landlord kick me out or otherwise treat me differently because I or someone I live with has COVID-19?

No. It’s illegal discrimination for a landlord to treat a tenant or potential tenant differently because of a disability, including an illness like COVID-19. This means your landlord can’t kick you out because you have COVID-19. It also means if you’re looking for a place, a landlord can’t refuse to rent their property to you for that reason.

For more information about your rights in these situations, click here and here.

If your landlord is an individual person or business, you can choose whether to complain to the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act, or to the Tenancy Tribunal under the Residential Tenancies Act. If your landlord is a public body like Kāinga Ora or a city council, you can only complain to the Human Rights Commission.

To make a complaint to the Human Rights commission click here, or to make a complaint to the Tenancy Tribunal click here.

Ending a tenancy

Can my landlord end my tenancy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. At the moment, the usual rules about terminations apply.

However, in an alert level 4 region, everyone must stay in their current place of residence where possible. Talk to your landlord and ask them for more time if you need to find a new tenancy after the alert level changes.

Click here for information on how and when fixed term tenancies can end.

Click here for information on how and when indefinite (periodic) tenancies can end.

What if my landlord had already given me notice before the pandemic?

If before 18 August your landlord had already given you notice to end the tenancy, you can talk to your landlord about extending the tenancy. You can ask them for more time to find a new tenancy once the alert level has changed.

What if my fixed-term tenancy ends during the pandemic?

A fixed-term tenancy will automatically change into an indefinite (periodic) tenancy if the fixed term ends, unless you and your landlord agree otherwise or you give notice to end the tenancy.  Landlords and tenants could agree to either renew or extend the fixed-term tenancy, or convert the tenancy to a periodic tenancy. However different rules apply if the tenancy started before 11 February 2021. If you are in a fixed term tenancy which started before 11 February, your landlord may give you notice that they do not want to continue the tenancy. The notice must be given between 90 and 21 days before the expiry date of the agreement.

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. An indefinite (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. If your agreement says nothing at all about when it will end, it’s a periodic tenancy.

Click here for information explaining about fixed-term tenancies and periodic (indefinite) tenancies.

Am I allowed to move to a new flat under Level 4?

At alert level 4, everyone must stay in their current place of residence where possible. There are some exceptions to this, for example, tenants can only move house if required to do so by court order or if they need to use a temporary or emergency home. For example, if they need care while sick or to seek refuge from family violence. You can also move if it is necessary to preserve your own or anyone’s life or safety.

You may also visit or stay at another person’s house if it is part of a shared bubble arrangement, where either you or the other person lives alone or is a vulnerable person (person at significant risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19).

If you have signed a new tenancy agreement that was due to start during alert level 4, you should talk to your landlord to reach an agreement. For example, you may agree to postpone the start date of the tenancy so the you don’t have to pay rent before you are able to move in.

Am I allowed to move to a new flat under Level 2?

At alert level 2 you can move house to an area at the same alert level. If you are moving to an somewhere within an area that is alert level 2, you can use a moving company to assist you, following social distancing requirements.

Can I move into or out of an alert level 4 region?

You can only move into or out of an alert level 4 region if you are required to move by a court order, for example, a Tenancy Tribunal order. You can only use a moving company to assist you if they receive an exemption from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, here.

I want to end my tenancy because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Can I do this?

If your tenancy is an indefinite one (a “periodic” tenancy) you can give 28 days’ written notice to end it.

If your tenancy is a fixed-term tenancy and you’d like to end it early, you could try to come to an arrangement with the landlord to cancel it. Landlords are being encouraged to be flexible during these difficult times.  If you can’t come to an agreement with them, you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to reduce the term of the tenancy on the grounds of an “unforeseen change in circumstances resulting in severe hardship” (click here for information about going to the Tribunal). Under the Level 4 lockdown you’ll need to apply online to the Tenancy Tribunal, here.

Paying your rent

Can my landlord put my rent up during the pandemic?

Technically yes – the rent freeze that was in place last year, that prevented landlords from increasing rent, is not in place at the moment. However, new rules saying that landlords can only increase rent once every 12 months (either from the start of the tenancy or since the last rent increase) have been in effect since 12 August. Any rent increase notice given to tenants before 12 August were covered by the old rule that landlords could only increase the rent once every 6 months.

For rent increases, the landlord must give you at least 60 days’ notice for residential tenancies and 28 days’ notice for boarding homes, and this has to be in writing. For more information on your rights around rent, click here.

Landlords are being encouraged to be flexible during this time and if you are struggling to pay the rent you can ask them to reconsider the rent increase or postpone it.

I can’t afford to pay my rent – what should I do?

If you can’t afford to pay your rent, let your landlord know as soon as possible. You and your landlord might be able to negotiate a change that would allow you to stay in your home and pay what you can afford. You should try to keep a good relationship with your landlord, with good communication, and be open and honest about your situation.

If you’re struggling to make your rent payments, you should also contact Work and Income to see if you qualify for any income support.

Can I ask my landlord for a rent reduction if I’m struggling to pay rent?

Yes you can, and we have a template letter that you may like to use for this here, add relevant information and send to your landlord.

My flatmates have stopped paying rent – will I be held responsible for their rent? What can I do about this?

If everyone living in the flat has signed the tenancy agreement, you will all have tenancy rights and obligations. This means that if one tenant gets behind in paying rent, all other tenants can be held responsible. If you are the only person on the tenancy agreement and you have flatmates, then you are responsible for any missed rent payments to the landlord.

Let your landlord know that your flatmates have stopped paying rent and that you’re having difficulty making the full payments by yourself. You may be able to come to an arrangement with the landlord. However, you’re still legally responsible for the rent and your landlord can ask you to pay what is due.

Landlords can apply for a Tenancy Tribunal order to make you pay unpaid rent.

Keep a record of how far behind your flatmates are in paying what would usually be their share of the rent and any communications you have with them about the issue. You may be able to recover some or all of the rent from the flatmates by applying to the Disputes Tribunal. You can only apply online for the time being, and your application might not be dealt with until after level 4 lockdown is over.

Repairs and inspections

What do I do if my home needs repairs or maintenance?

For maintenance, at alert level 4, a tradesperson can carry out repairs if there is an immediate risk to health and safety.

Non-urgent repairs and maintenance can’t happen during alert level 4.

For maintenance at alert level 2, tradespeople can come to your house for maintenance. During maintenance, physical distancing must be maintained and hygiene measures followed. Landlords should get your consent before doing any maintenance.

 

My landlord wants to inspect the property?

Landlords must not visit their tenants or carry out in-person inspections during alert level 4. They can carry out a virtual inspection, but only if you agree.

At alert level 2, in-person inspections can take place. During inspections, physical distance should be maintained and hygiene measures followed. Records should be kept for contact tracing purposes.

What about open homes and auctions?

Under alert level 4, open homes and auctions cannot take place in person, but they can happen remotely.

Under alert level 2, in-person viewings can happen as long as physical distancing measures are followed.

Resolving disputes with your landlord: Going to the Tenancy Tribunal

Is the Tenancy Tribunal still operating during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes – the Tenancy Tribunal is operating, however under alerts level 3 and 4, they are changing the way they operate. There will be no in person hearings, hearings will take place over teleconference (video call). If this is not possible, the hearing will be rescheduled.

If you have a hearing scheduled during alert level 4, Tenancy services will contact you by phone, email or text, to let you know about the details of your hearing.

At alert level 2, Tenancy Tribunal hearings and mediation will be operating in-person (following the appropriate Alert Level health and safety requirements) and remotely by phone.

Sleeping rough during alerts level 4

What support can I get if I am sleeping rough?

If you have no home to sleep in, and you want a home, there are a few agencies that can help you. Some are offering emergency accommodation and food during this time. You can start by calling your local council office to be referred to the most useful place. These agencies are essential services and are operating, with strict social distancing in place. Details for some of these services can be found, under ‘Getting help if you’re homeless’, here.

If you want to or need to sleep outside, you have the right to do that, except in some places where the local council has made it illegal to sleep on public footpaths and roads.

Where to go for help if you need emergency housing

To apply for emergency housing from the government, you need to start by applying to Work and Income. Under alert levels 3 and 4, all service centres are closed but information on how to apply for emergency housing is online here.

You can also call them on 0800 559 009, or if you’re over 65, call Senior Services on 0800 552 002.

What if I am having a dispute with my emergency housing provider?

Under alert level 4, everyone must stay in their current place of residence where possible. If you are having a dispute with your emergency housing provider, you should try to talk to them and work through your dispute.

You should also get in touch with your local Community Law Centre for free legal advice via the phone– click here for contact details.

 

 

Last updated: 10 September 2021

 

 

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Check out Frequently Asked Questions and Answers related to COVID-19 on our website here.

Community Law Centres across Aotearoa are operating remotely. Please contact them via the phone number or email displayed on the Centre’s page.

Find the contact details of your nearest Community Law Centre here.

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