27 March 2020

Note: this information was accurate at the time of publishing on 27 March. On 3 April,  the Director General of Health issued a notice under Section 70 of the Health Act(external link), which provides further guidance on movement during Alert Level 4. Please read this notice before considering any moves while New Zealand is at Alert Level 4.

 “If parties must move in extreme circumstances they must exercise extreme caution and follow Ministry of Health guidelines and follow the Alert System when moving. If parties cannot work together to plan a move within the rules set by the Alert System, then the move must not take place.” says Tenancy Services Information and Education Manager Jennifer Sykes.

The changes to termination provisions in the new legislation passed earlier this week will be in place for 3 months, at which point the Government will consider whether they need to be extended. The level 4 alert rating is, however, currently planned for 4 weeks. The legislation is designed to cover both Alert level 4 and 3.

The level 4 alert rules are designed to reduce movement between properties wherever possible for the next 4 weeks. Tenants retain their existing rights under the Residential Tenancies Act and may still be able to move into a new rental property if they need to but must follow Ministry of Health guidelines and follow the Alert System rules when moving.

There may be situations where moving into a new rental property is absolutely essential. For example, a New Zealander returning to the country may need to begin a new tenancy,  family violence may create an essential need to move, or a tenants’ current rental property may become uninhabitable eg a catastrophic plumbing leak.

“I appreciate that the ability for landlords and property managers to organise a move while under a Alert Level 4 would be extremely limited. This would be very rare and reserved for only very exceptional circumstances and when the tenant would otherwise have nowhere else to live.” says Ms Sykes.

The new legislation also introduced a freeze on rent increases and additional protections for tenants.

Tenants still need to pay rent during this time and could have their tenancy terminated by the Tenancy Tribunal if they get behind in their rent by 60 days or more and for other limited reasons during the 3 month period. Tenants struggling to meet their payments can contact Work and Income(external link) to find out what options are available to them.

“Landlords and tenants should talk to each other and work together to come to an arrangement that suits them both in these unprecedented and difficult times.” Ms Sykes says.

Guidance under the alert levels:

Please note that the rules for alert levels are subject to change. Find the most up-to-date COVID-19 information for landlords and tenants on this page.(external link)

Moving rental properties is not prohibited under the COVID-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Amendment Act (the new law passed Wednesday 25 March amending the Residential Tenancies Act).

During alert level 4

Moves should only occur in very extreme circumstances and extreme care must be taken not to violate any Alert Level 4 rules. Here is some guidance on specific scenarios as follows:

  • If parties need to sign a tenancy agreement, this should be done digitally.
  • If keys need to be transferred, then extreme care must be taken. Property managers are not classified as an essential service so they cannot go into offices to pick up keys during alert level 4. Transfer could therefore only occur if there are keys available to them at their homes. Physical distancing must be maintained and keys should be sanitised.
  • Tenants can only move in a private vehicle with only members of their own household. They cannot hire a moving service during this time.

For example, if a New Zealander might be returning home from overseas, the landlord or property manager might be working from home and have access to keys at their home office. The tenant might pick the sanitised keys up in their own vehicle and go straight to the new premises.

During alert level 3

Similarly, moves at level 3 can only occur in very exceptional circumstances. All parties must take extreme care.

Please note that property managers are not classified as an essential service at level 4 of the Alert System. For more information please visit the Ministry of Health website.(external link) (external link) 

Please refer to the central government COVID-19 website(external link) for information on the Alert Levels.

As you may already be aware, there are a set of questions and answers available(external link) on the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development website that may assist with the queries you have about more detailed scenarios. 

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