Residential tenancies update

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A significant amendment to tenancy law has just come into force by an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act.  This mainly affects:

  • Contamination of rental premises;
  • Liability for damage to rental premises caused by a tenant; and
  • Tenancies over rental premises that are unlawful for residential use.


In a previous article here, I discussed the uncertainty around methamphetamine contamination levels.  Standards NZ requires a meth contaminated house to be cleaned back to a level of 1.5 μg/100 cm2, but a report by the government’s chief science adviser says that contamination levels under 15 μg/100 cm2 are not harmful.  This inconsistency has caused a great deal of uncertainty.

The main contamination changes are:

  • Landlords can enter a house for testing for contamination (ie drug testing) on between 14 days and 48 hours’ notice;
  • If the test is positive, the landlord must advise the tenant within 7 days; and
  • Regulations will be made to clarify what level of contamination triggers clean-up requirements.

The regulations have not yet been made and until then there is a degree of uncertainty.  However, this is a clear signal that one way or another, the confusion about a landlord’s obligations where methamphetamine levels over 1.5 but less than 15 μg/100 cm2 will soon be resolved.

Damage and insurance

For all new tenancies, the landlord is now required to provide insurance information to the tenant as part of the tenancy agreement.  For existing tenancies, a tenant may request this information which should be provided within a reasonable period of time.  If the insurance information changes the landlord must update the tenant.

The change clarifies that a tenant is only liable for damage to a home where this is intentionally done by the tenant (or someone the tenant is responsible for).

Where damage is carelessly done by the tenant (or someone the tenant is responsible for), the tenant is only liable for the lesser of the insurance excess, or 4 weeks rent.

Landlords should be especially careful to ensure that they have comprehensive insurance in place to protect themselves as losses cannot be fully recovered from a careless tenant.

Unlawful tenancies

The definition of “residential premises” has been expanded to include buildings that were not intended to be lived in (such as a garage or lean to) or which are not consented.

This means that when someone rents a building to live in unlawfully, the Residential Tenancies Act will apply regardless, and the tenant can seek remedies from the Tenancy Tribunal.

This also means that landlord’s obligations and building standards apply to these tenancies.


I look forward to clarification of safe meth levels in the regulations, which should be developed and passed next year.  The other changes are consistent with a government approach to favour tenants instead of landlords, and owning a rental property remains a potentially risky prospect.

For advice and assistance in relation to tenancy problems including methamphetamine contamination, contact Gaze Burt’s litigation and dispute resolution team.

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