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September 3, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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What’s Illegal?

I mentioned in a column a few months ago that most landlords will try to get away with as much as they can, in terms of how little money they spend on rental properties. Many houses that they are renting out have not had basic maintenance done on them for years.

For instance, if you move into a house with a fence that is falling down or a gate that is falling off its hinges, you are not likely to get this repaired, as the landlord can say that these things are in a reasonable condition for the use they are likely to be put to. In other words, unless you have a slavering pitbull that must be kept on your section (which you would probably NEVER get permission for anyway), you can whistle for this one. Likewise, if you can hear the wind whistling through the broken roof tiles, but the roof doesn’t leak enough to cause water damage to the house, the landlord may not fix that either. If you move into a place which has poor TV reception, your landlord is not required to help you tune into ER, Shortland St or the wrestling. BUT if you find that the TV aerial is so rusted that it doesn’t work, or has actually blown off the roof (this actually happened to me), and the agent didn’t tell you before you moved in, it must also be fixed (so there, Quinovich Ghuznee Street!)

If you ever move into a place knowing that some things were in disrepair when you signed the lease, you are in a much weaker position to have these fixed than if you only discover these when you are move in. Cases such as a washing machine or fridge provided by the landlord which is kaput are fairly clear – they must be replaced or repaired. But if the fridge ices up totally at the back after a month, and the washer is so noisy your neighbour complains (this also happened to me, but the woman next door was a cow), you are unlikely to get much joy, as long as they still work. However, if the curtains or carpets give you a headache, it’s your own fault, since they were there in the first place.

A lot of places I have lived in have had part of the area under the house or the garden shed storage area filled up with some of the landlord’s stuff, such as old carpet or lino, or the cabinets the kitchen used to have in 1928, before it was redone in 1962. This stuff is often referred to as ‘spare materials’ by the landlord, while anything you store in the same place will be labelled ‘rubbish’. It is probably not worth complaining about this too much, as the law says the landlord is to pass on a property which is free of rubbish. If he hasn’t, the Tenancy Tribunal will probably look at him sideways if he says you haven’t either. “One man’s rubbish is another man’s… whatever.”

There are certain things which must be fixed straight away, whether your landlord likes it or not: a broken hot water heater, a blocked toilet (never flush your tampons), a dangerous electrical fault or a slippery path or deck. The Tribunal gets very tetchy with landlords who don’t fix such essentials as soon as possible.

If something that may cause you physical harm is not fixed straight away, you can sue the landlord if you come to harm. (I probably should have sued Nadia Henderson, when we slipped on the path and deck of her rental place more times than I can count, before she de-slimed them after THREE weeks.) If you want to move into a place which has a broken window, this constitutes a security risk, and is required to be fixed immediately, (still listening, Nadia?). But if you break it, you have to fix it tout suite!

I saw one place recently which had a gap between the floor and the wall of about 1cm, which was stuffed with newspaper. The landlord doesn’t have to fix this, as it is not a safety or security risk. I feel sorry for the poor buggers who moved into this place – the 3 bedroom place above Glengary Wines in Upland Rd.

Finally, any queries you have with your telephone line should be taken up with Telecom, who I have to say (even though I don’t want to) seem to be providing excellent technician service these days. Likewise, gas and power meters and provision must be dealt with by your provider – your landlord has no influence. If your utilities get cut off for non-payment, it’s your fault – DUH!

Other things: My thanks to ‘feltpants’ for his high praise, and my condolences to Anna, who has all sorts of trials living with her grandmother (you have my sympathy – living with my grandmother was lovely – no one ever made shortbread like her).

Please send your questions and stories about renting to rentingwithali@gmail.com.

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