Earthquake Fact Sheet | TENANCY
Natural disasters like earthquakes are not ordinary events, and require landlords and tenants to work together in good faith.
If you and your landlord are unable to reach a solution which you think is reasonable, then you can take further steps to have the matter sorted.
You can ask for:
information about tenancy rights & responsibilities on 0800 TENANCY (the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) tenancy helpline)
- practical advice, advocacy and support through Tenants Protection Association
- legal assistance from Community Law Marlborough
- or seek formal mediation through Tenancy Services at MBIE.
If mediation doesn’t resolve the issue, you can apply to be heard by the Tenancy Tribunal, who will make a decision which you and your landlord must follow. The Tribunal has the power (among other things) to end a tenancy, impose rent reductions or compensation, and order that maintenance work be done to make the property safe and usable.
1. I’m renting but the house I live in has been damaged by the earthquake.
What should I do?
It depends on the extent of the damage. If you’re renting a house that’s now unsafe to live in because of substantial earthquake damage, then you might be able to end your tenancy quickly, even if it’s a fixed term tenancy. See Question 2.
If you’re living in a house that has been damaged by the earthquake but it is still safe for you to live there, you don’t have a special right to end your tenancy on that basis. You can ask your landlord for temporary rent relief or rent reduction if:
- some parts of the house have toppled or broken,
- there is significant inconvenience to you while the house is being repaired, or
you have not had access to water or sewerage for extended periods of time.
If you cannot reach agreement you should contact 0800 TENANCY.
2. I don’t think the house I’m renting is safe to live in.
How bad does it have to be before I can stop paying my rent?
Tenants have the right to give two days’ notice to exit a tenancy if the property is “uninhabitable”. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a fixed term tenancy or a periodic tenancy.
First, discuss the state of the property and your intentions with your landlord. If you and your landlord don’t agree that the property is uninhabitable you will need a professional opinion or a decision from the Tenancy Tribunal. Ensure you are safe, then contact 0800 TENANCY as soon as possible to discuss your concerns.
3. What if I’ve stopped paying rent without my landlord’s permission?
Unless your tenancy has officially ended, you must continue to pay your agreed rent amount unless your landlord has agreed for you to stop or reduce your rent, or the Tenancy Tribunal has decided you can pay a lower amount.
If you stop paying rent without your landlord’s agreement, you are putting your tenancy at risk. If you are over three weeks (21 days) behind in your rent, your landlord can apply for an order terminating your tenancy. You won’t necessarily get a chance to remedy the situation by paying your arrears. Even if you planned to pay the money back, once you are 21 days behind in rent you still risk eviction.
If your tenancy is terminated due to rent arrears, you will still owe the unpaid rent amount.
4. My landlord and I agreed that I should move out of the house because it is uninhabitable.
Can I move back in after the property is fixed?
If you moved out temporarily, and did not formally end the tenancy, you can move back in when the property is fixed.
If you have exercised your right to end the tenancy on the basis that the property was uninhabitable or by giving sufficient notice under a periodic tenancy, then the landlord has no legal obligation to offer you the tenancy once the property is fixed.
However, if you need to move out of the property for repairs and the landlord is planning to rent it out again once it is repaired, you may well be able to negotiate an arrangement so that you and the landlord end the tenancy, but you are given first option on any new tenancy once the property is once again habitable. If you have made such an arrangement, the landlord may be under a legal obligation to offer you the tenancy.
5. How can I get my landlord to fix damage to the house?
Ask them, and follow up by putting your request in writing (e-mail or letter) – keeping a copy for your records. Give your landlord your contact details and discuss practical details like how to let tradespeople in. It might be difficult for the landlord to find tradespeople who are available or to afford some of the repairs. Sometimes landlords will need to wait for council work to be completed, or the report of a professional to recommend what action they need to take.
If you feel like the landlord has had a reasonable amount of time to respond to your request and there are still no signs of them going to, you should send the landlord a 14 day notice to remedy. This is a formal notice informing the landlord of their breach, and giving them 14 days to organise or carry out the repairs. If you are not satisfied with the landlord’s response then you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for a Work Order, which is where the landlord is instructed to carry out repairs or work.
6. I’ve got an Order of the Tribunal from before the earthquake to pay arrears.
Do I still need to comply with this order?
Yes. If you were behind in rent from before the earthquake you still need to pay this money back, and if you are still living at the tenancy pay any rent owing after the earthquake too. Although it is important that tenants and landlords have compassion at this time, it is not in anyone’s interests to become further in debt.
If you have a Mediated Order for rent arrears and you miss any payments, contact your landlord immediately because there is a risk they might enforce the clause of the Mediated Order that says your tenancy will end if you miss any payments.
If you have agreed on a rent reduction because of the earthquake then adjust your payments to take this into account, making sure you are still paying off the rent arrears from before the earthquake as well.
If you had a Tenancy Tribunal Order for rent arrears and you are struggling to make the repayments, re-negotiate the payment plan with the landlord, or if you are making payments as a result of an Order of Examination, contact Collections at the District Court.
7. My landlord had an Order of the Tribunal from before the earthquake to do repairs.
Do these repairs still need to be done?
In most situations it is reasonable to expect the landlord to carry out the repairs as instructed.
If your home has suffered damage as a result of the earthquake it might affect the ability of the landlord to carry out these repairs. The landlord might also be experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the earthquake or having difficulty finding an available tradesperson. With this in mind, if the landlord has not carried out the repairs yet ask them for an explanation so you can decide if there is a legitimate reason for them not complying with the Work Order, and to discuss when you can expect the work to be done.
A landlord still must provide the property in a reasonable standard and you should still expect a professional job to be done when repairs are carried out.
If your home has suffered significant damage during the earthquake and you are going to carry on with the tenancy, then you might need to record in writing what the new situation is and what repairs are now going to have to be done, and ask for an appropriate rent reduction if required until the work is finished.
8. My house is not uninhabitable, but I want to move out and I don’t have a fixed term tenancy contract.
Can I just give 21 days notice to vacate?
Yes, if you have a periodic tenancy you can give 21 days notice to vacate. If you gave your notice in person or over the phone, follow this up as soon as possible by a written notice repeating the date when you gave your verbal notice so it is clear when the 21 days began. This letter should name the date that will be the last day of the tenancy.
If you are moving out because of significant earthquake damage to your home, negotiate a rent reduction for the time of the earthquake until the end of the tenancy.
Need more help?
Tenants Protection Association (Inc) Christchurch is a not-for-profit organisation who may be able to give you further support or advice.
Phone them on (03) 379 2297.
Community Law Marlborough provides free legal help over the phone or in person about tenancy and various other legal issues.
Phone our office on (03) 577 9919 or 0800 266 529 to talk to or make an appointment with a case worker.
You can also contact Tenancy Services, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment helpline on 0800 TENANCY for more information, or visit their website https://tenancy.govt.nz.
This fact sheet was written by Community Law Canterbury and adapted by Community Law Marlborough.
It contains general employment information, and you may need to seek more specific information or advice about your situation.
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