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Six Big Fines You May Want To Avoid

Nothing is worse than trying to be a nice landlord, and then being held to task for something you didn’t know you were doing wrong, writes Greg Watson.

3 December 2023

I have found over the years that even the nicest, most well-meaning landlords can be held to task for accidentally breaching tenancy law.

There have been untold cases where landlords have had to pay tenants a punitive amount of money for their unintentional behavioural wrongdoings. In my opinion, nothing is worse than trying to be a nice landlord, and then being held to task for something you didn’t know you were doing wrong.

To help you avoid some fines I have seen happen let’s look at a few examples:

1 Entering the rental property without correct notice – up to $1,500: Some landlords are very friendly with their tenants and may have a casual agreement to visit the rental whenever they like. However, in a recent Auckland case a landlord admitted going into buildings on the property three times without their permission. He was fined $800 and had to pay this to the tenant.

2 Interfering with quiet enjoyment of tenants – up to $3,000: Tenants have the right to “quiet enjoyment” of the property for which they are paying rent. Owners can easily get themselves on the wrong side of a tribunal decision simply by visiting too often. There was a case down south where the landlord mowed the lawns regularly, believing he was doing the tenants a favour.

At the end of the tenancy there was a bond disagreement and in retribution the tenants filed a Tenancy Tribunal claim, saying they couldn’t peacefully enjoy the property because the landlord often turned up to mow the lawns. They argued the landlord was using mowing as an excuse to “keep an eye” on them. The tenants won the case with the landlord incurring a fine.

3 Landlord not doing duties required under s45 of Residential Tenancies Act – up to $7,200: There are general requirements to provide a property in a reasonable state of cleanliness and to provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair. Landlords must also abide by smoke alarm regulations, comply with Healthy Homes standards, any building requirements and health and safety matters.

This is a minefield and I see instances almost weekly at the Tenancy Tribunal with landlords being required to pay fines to tenants for infractions. In many cases it’s obvious the landlords didn’t really understand their obligations. Not understanding your obligations, however, is no defence, so if in doubt seek advice.

4 Failing to lodge bond correctly – up to $1,500: I am surprised by how many self-managing landlords I meet that still hold or haven’t lodged the bond. The law requires you to receipt any bond as you receive it, with the relevant information, and lodge it with the bond centre within 23 working days. Failure will leave you open to a fine at any time in the future, so please get this one right. Any bond amount you receive (whether full or part-payment) must be receipted and lodged, so once you receive it – move it on.

5 Failure to appoint agent while overseas for 21 days or more – up to $1,000: Are you planning a trip? Did you know that if a landlord travels overseas for longer than three weeks and does not appoint an agent they could be up for a fine? It is crucial for tenants to have a reliable point of contact in your absence. The Tenancy Services website has all the paperwork to help you do this, which also provides evidence to defend yourself if necessary.

6 Seizing or disposing of tenant’s goods – up to $3,000: Sometimes landlords can get in big trouble, particularly if they have had a bad tenant that abandons the property in a mess of rubbish, furniture and appliances. Landlords, with the best of intentions, aim to promptly clean up the property and prepare it for re-rental. But be warned, there is a correct process around the storage and disposal of tenant belongings. If you muck it up, even though you are chasing that tenant for the money they owe you, they could chase you for up to $3,000 as a fine for getting rid of their belongings.

There are plenty of great resources available to gain an understanding around what your obligations are as a landlord, and how to avoid putting a foot wrong. Tenancy Services have a wide range of documents, flow charts, and an 0800 number to assist you in this process.

Greg Watson is an experienced property manager who excels in providing informed advice and continuously improving the property management service. He is a recognised industry expert, winning national awards and contributing to industry standards. Phone 06 353 7274, www.watsonrealestate.nz

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