1 August 2019

New tenancy legislation was passed on 30 July 2019 which will affect landlords and tenants in a number of ways.

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2019 (external link) will:

  • limit tenants’ liability for careless damage in rental properties.
  • give the Tenancy Tribunal full jurisdiction over cases concerning premises that are unlawful for residential purposes, such as garages and sleep-outs, which don’t meet minimum requirements for renting.
  • protect tenants living in those premises under the Residential Tenancies Act.
  • give Tenancy Services the ability to take enforcement action against landlords who rent properties which don’t meet minimum standards.
  • allow for regulations to be made to address how contamination of rental properties is tested and managed.

These changes are scheduled to take effect on 27 August 2019.

Tenant liability for damage

If tenants damage a rental property as a result of careless behaviour, they will be liable for the cost of the damage up to a maximum of four weeks’ rent or the landlord’s insurance excess, whichever is lower. Tenants on income-related rents will be liable for up to four weeks’ market rent or the landlord’s insurance excess, whichever is lower.

Landlords will need to provide insurance information in any new tenancy agreement, including whether the property is insured and if so, what the excess amount is. The statement in the tenancy agreement must also inform the tenant that a copy of their insurance policy is available on request.

If they don’t provide this information, or if they don’t tell tenants, in writing, within a reasonable time if this information changes, they may be liable for a financial penalty of up to $500.

Tenants on existing tenancies will be able to ask their landlords for this insurance information, and this must also be provided within a reasonable time.

Insurance companies will not be able to pursue tenants on the landlord’s behalf for the cost of damage unless the damage was intentional or the result of an act or omission that constitutes an imprisonable offence.

Unlawful residential premises

Currently, tenants who live in premises such as converted garages, sleep-outs, warehouses or industrial buildings are not always protected by the Residential Tenancies Act.

The new Act amends the definition of “residential premises” so that regardless of whether premises can be legally lived in, they will be considered residential premises under the Residential Tenancies Act if they are lived in or intended to be lived in.

This gives the Tenancy Tribunal full jurisdiction over cases concerning premises that are unlawful for residential purposes, and means Tenancy Services will be able to take enforcement action against landlords who breach the Residential Tenancies Act.

Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords must comply with all legal requirements relating to buildings and health and safety that apply to the premises. They must also ensure that the premises can legally be lived in at the start of a tenancy.

Contamination of premises

New regulations will be developed to prescribe the acceptable level for methamphetamine contamination, processes for testing (including when to test) and decontamination of rental properties. The regulations will be developed over the next year.

Landlords will be able to test for methamphetamine in rental premises while tenants are living there. They must provide 48 hours’ notice to tenants before entering the property, or for boarding house tenants they must provide 24 hours’ notice before entering the boarding house room.

Landlords will have to tell the tenant what contaminant they are testing for, and share the test results (in writing) with the tenant within seven days of receiving them.

Once relevant regulations are in place, landlords will not be able to knowingly rent premises that are contaminated above the prescribed level (as set out in the regulations), without decontaminating in accordance with the regulations. They will be liable for a financial penalty of up to $4,000 if they do so.

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