Moving into your first flat can be exciting - and overwhelming. It's important to know your rights and responsibilities when you finally find your new home.
Jane is looking for a flat
Jane has just moved to New Zealand and has been staying in a hotel temporarily while she looks for a flat. She has a copy of Renting and you which explains the renting law in New Zealand. Jane has looked on flatting websites and in the newspaper for flats near her university. She is checking out a few suitable places.
Questions Jane should ask when looking for a flat:
- When is the property available?
- Is it a fixed-term tenancy or a periodic tenancy?
- How much is the rent?
- How much bond is required?
- Is the property fully furnished?
- What whiteware (eg. washing machine, refrigerator, microwave, etc) is included?
- Is it close to transport? Shops? University?
- How many people are allowed to live in the property?
- Will she need a Flat/House sharing agreement?
- Does the property get morning or afternoon sun?
- Is the property energy efficient?
- How secure is the property? Are there deadlocks or an alarm?
- Who is responsible for mowing the lawn?
- Is there a garage or on-street parking available?
- Is it OK to smoke inside?
- Are pets allowed?
- What’s the neighbourhood like?
- Does the landlord have any references?
Selecting a flat
Jane has asked the prospective landlords these questions and has chosen a preferred flat. It is owned by a couple, Mr and Mrs Smith, who share the landlord duties. They ask Jane to complete a pre-tenancy application form which asks for her contact details, previous landlord details and references. They also ask for her consent to conduct reference and credit checks. Jane is happy to provide references and also asks the Smith's for references from previous tenants.
Completing a tenancy agreement
A few days later, the Smiths offer the flat to Jane and tell her she can move in over the weekend. Before then, they want to meet to discuss the terms of the tenancy agreement and also conduct a thorough property inspection together. The tenancy agreement records contact details for both the landlord and tenant. It also sets out the terms of the tenancy (eg, amount of rent, amount of bond, the date the tenancy begins, maximum number of occupants), and any other terms the landlord and tenant agree on, as long as they do not breach the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.
Gathering information from the landlords
When Jane meets with Mr and Mrs Smith to discuss the tenancy agreement she should ask some follow-up questions, such as:
- What is the best way to contact the landlords?
- Is there someone else she can contact in the event of an emergency?
- How often will the landlords conduct property inspections?
- Is any routine maintenance done on the property?
- Do they have details of preferred tradespeople? Can she contact them directly if needed?
- When is rubbish and recycling collected?
Inspecting the property
After discussing the terms of the tenancy and having her questions answered, Jane goes through the property with the Smiths and notes any damage on the property inspection report. They spend nearly an hour making sure everything is working properly, including:
- all taps and plumbing (eg. shower, toilets)
- appliances (including oven, dishwasher and washing machine).
She also makes sure to check:
- the windows open and shut properly in each room
- the location of the smoke alarm and fire extinguisher
- the nearest fire exit
- any holes or markings on the walls, floor and ceiling of each room.
Responsibilities as a tenant
The landlords explain Jane's responsibilities as a tenant include:
- keeping the property reasonably clean and tidy
- paying the rent on time, and
- advising the Smiths of any maintenance or repairs needed.
The landlords say they will conduct a property inspection in two or three months. Jane is happy when the Smiths say the law requires them to:
- give at least 48 hours notice before an inspection
- inspect only once in any four-week period
- give 24 hours notice before entering the property for maintenance or repairs
The Smiths say if any urgent maintenance is needed they can attend to it immediately, but only if Jane gives consent.
When Jane and the landlords finish the property inspection report and agree to the terms of the tenancy, they all sign the tenancy agreement.
Rental payments and records
Jane asks Mrs Smith if she needs to pay the rent in cash or by cheque. Mrs Smith suggests Jane set up an automatic payment that puts the rent directly in the Smiths’ account. Jane is asked if she would like to pay the rent weekly, fortnightly or monthly. She agrees to pay the rent fortnightly by automatic payment. Mrs Smith suggests Jane keep her bank statements as a record of her rent payments and asks her to pay two weeks' rent in advance. Mrs Smith explains that Jane's next rent payment will be due two weeks after she moves in.
Jane asks the landlords to explain the process for collecting and lodging bond in New Zealand. They explain that legally they can ask for up to four weeks' rent as bond, but that they only require Jane to pay three weeks rent as bond. After she pays the bond they will send it to Tenancy Services which will hold the bond until the end of the tenancy. The bond will then be refunded, as long as she pays the rent owed and doesn't damage the property. Together they fill out and sign the bond lodgement form.
Jane also asks the landlords if she needs insurance. The Smiths explain that their insurance covers the property, but that she will need a contents insurance policy to protect her belongings and also cover any personal liability. They suggest she contact Tenancy Services for more information.
After Jane pays the rent in advance and the bond, the Smiths lodge the bond and send her a receipt as well as a copy of the signed tenancy agreement. Two weeks after she moves in, Jane gets a bond acknowledgement letter from Tenancy Services advising her that her bond has been lodged.
Tying up loose ends
Jane can contact New Zealand Post about their redirection service so that any mail the university might send to the hotel before term starts will automatically find her at her new flat.
Once she finds a flat she can use Change my address (external link) to notify organisations of her new address.