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May 13, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Lordin’ It Over You

What do landlords use for birth control?
 
Their personalities.
 
Wise cracks aside, student flatting issues can wind up being no joke. What are your rights and responsibilities when it comes to renting?
 

Weak shower pressure is really no reason to complain—just as my landlord has kindly divulged to me, “You don’t live in a five-star hotel”. But when shit gets real, who’s going to fix and pay for your broken window, or that dripping tap?

Fresh out of the nest, us students are a pretty easy bunch, possibly in more ways than one. In particular, we are an easy bunch for landlords to take advantage of. Many of us move out of home, leaving behind the bank of advice and cash known as parents. So how do we know if we’re getting treated fairly? Rachel Orr of Shelter, a prominent UK housing and homeless charity, identifies students as a group that is “commonly discriminated against”. Nightmare stories from student flats suggest that our flats are colder, our pipes leakier, and our maintenance men creepier than any other tenants’. Increases in rent, discrimination, and refusal of bond repayment are problems that can drain the bank account, and leave tenants wondering “What would Jeremy Kyle do?” Landlords can make or break a flatting experience, and we should therefore do our flatting homework before entering into any new living arrangement.

As a group, students are victim to many a stereotype. Easy, breezy, and usually drunk, we attend classes only once in a blue moon. Generally only when the University is offering free food, or in the week before exams. Leasing contracts are filed somewhere in the back of our minds, somewhere in between memories of your first pet (RIP Flopsy) and that suppressed memory of last week’s town hook-up. Ignorance is bliss, right? Whether we are naïve, or simply don’t care, we present ourselves as prime meat for landlords to take advantage of.

Student Emma offered a story of a landlord shiftier than your worst ex-boyfriend. “We found a brand new apartment just off Tory St, but the first time we organised to view it, the ‘property manager’ forgot to show up, and ‘forgot’ to let us know or to apologise. We tried to look up his company (Plum Property) on the internet but they didn’t even have a website.” After forcing the group to pay $100 to secure a 12-month fixed-term lease (despite having earlier offered one to the group), then later denying that this agreement had taken place, the landlord eventually coerced the group into a periodic tenancy. “We had to move out of our current place in a few days, so we didn’t think we really had a choice but to sign onto this periodic tenancy.” Wary, but at least with a roof over their heads, the happy young flatties put up with the usual bullshit; a distant landlord, spontaneous visits, and broken bits and pieces around the flat. Disaster struck little over a month later, with a phone call that ordered the innocent flatties to vacate the flat by the end of the month. Fortunately for Emma, Property Law had taught her that the landlord in question had not given them the the legally required 42 days’ notice. In return for moving out before this period, the group were able to to live rent-free in the flat, and the landlord paid for movers to their new flat. “When we first met him, he told us that he didn’t like beer. Should have known he was untrustworthy then.”

Whether or not they’re studying Property Law, everyone has the entitlement and the means to know their rights as a flatter. Under the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2010, all tenants are legally entitled to fair and equal treatment by their landlord, regardless of age, gender, occupation or race. According to Andrew, advisor at the Wellington Citizens Advice Bureau, there should be no difference in the treatment of any tenants. “This is to protect both tenant and landlord; the same rules relate to everyone.” So where does the problem lie? All demographics have their share of flatting problems; we’ve all seen a few golden oldies on Fair Go and Neighbours At War. As students, we possibly play the blame game a bit too much, maintaining a ‘It’s not me, it’s you’ attitude.

While the landlord’s etiquette handbook may not insist on freshly baked cookies on arrival, it is illegal for your landlord to turn up on a Sunday morning unannounced. Not to mention detrimental to your recovery rate.

Despite their rules and regulations, landlords are not in fact surrogate parents. They do not always have your best interests at heart, the existence of which is occasionally questioned. However fresh out of the nest we are, the fact stands that we have left. So instead of questioning whether your landlord has your back, it’s time to read up, get smart, and have your own back.

BACK YO’SELF

PROPERTY INSPECTIONS:

– A property inspection cannot occur any more than once every four weeks, except to check on repair work being done.
– 48 hours’ notice is required before an inspection.

MAINTENANCE:

– A landlord is required to make sure that the property is clean and tidy before the tenants move in.
– Plumbing, electrical wiring and the structure of the building must all be safe and working upon the moving-in of new tenants.
– Landlords must pay the tenant back for any urgent work the tenant has paid for.

RIGHTS:

– Under a fixed-term contract, a landlord is not legally able to evict a tenant, except with the agreement of the tenant or an order from the Tenancy Tribunal.
– If any rights are breached, any tenant can and should issue a notice to remedy; this gives the landlord 14 consecutive days to fix the problem. A copy of the notice, and suggested further action is available at www.dbh.govt.nz.

RENT:

– If a landlord wants to increase rent, they must give at least 60 days’ written notice, plus any extra time it will take for you to correctly receive the notice.
– Although there is no limit to how much a landlord can increase rent, it must not be increased excessively past what other people in the area are paying.
– Your rent can’t go up within six months of you moving in, or within six months of the last rent increase.
– If there is nothing in your rental agreement which specifies rent can be increased, the landlord cannot increase rent.
– The landlord cannot go to the Tenancy Tribunal to recover rent unless you are three weeks late on payments. If this is the case, they can also request that your tenancy be terminated.
– Landlords must give 14 days’ notice to remedy any breach. This notice can be served as soon as you are one day late on rent payments.
– If you think your rent is too much, you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal. The Tribunal will compare your rent to other properties in your area, and if it is too high, can order your rent to be lowered.
– If you want your rent assessed by the Tribunal, you must apply within three months of moving in. You can apply for an assessment every three months.
– The maximum rent a landlord can ask for in advance is TWO weeks’ worth. You do not have to pay any more rent until this rent is used up.
– Any rent paid in advance cannot be held to be used at the end of the tenancy—it must be used straight away.

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