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29-09-2009

Changes to the RTA move into the final stretch

LANDLORDS

Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) have finally moved into the home stretch, with the bill being reported back to Parliament from select committee.

By Rob Hosking

The committee has removed the controversial clause requiring landlords to disclose to prospective tenants whether a property has been subject to cleansing orders, for example because previous tenants have used the place as a P Lab.

Cleansing orders are already required on a property's land information memorandum (LIM) - something tenants can pick up from their local council.

Also Tenancy Tribunal rulings make it clear landlords are breaching the law if they lease a contaminated property.

Issues of damage to property and anti-social tenants have been the most controversial parts of the wider RTA changes.

This looks likely to continue as the committee has inserted a new clause into the bill about tenants' responsibilities relating to fire risks.

"We are aware that a number of landlords have had problems with tenants removing batteries from smoke alarms or disconnecting them altogether, and that some have noted tenants interfering with means of escape from fire on their properties...we recommend that the bill clearly prohibit tenants from causing or allowing any interference with, or rendering inoperative, any means of escape from fire as defined by the Building Act 2004," the report says.

The committee is holding firm on clauses requiring the Tenancy Tribunal to evict a tenant where the tenant has "caused or permitted" a visitor to assault or threaten other people, for example the landlord.

The committee says concerns by tenant advocacy groups this would be open to abuse are misplaced because there is clear case law around the meaning of "caused or permitted" and the tribunal will not be able to evict anyone unless the tenant had "contributed to, or had taken reasonable steps to prevent, an assault or threat of assault".

There are also changes to the rules around landlord obligations regarding goods abandoned by tenants.

The main changes are:

  • Landlords can immediately dispose foodstuffs and other perishable items.
  • Landlords must make a "reasonable attempt" to contact the tenant and arrange collection of abandoned goods.
  • If they are not collected, the landlord "must make a reasonable effort to assess their market value, and be allowed to immediately dispose of the goods where the cost of removing, storing, and selling them would be more than the proceeds of sale".
  • If the cost of storage is less than the proceeds of sale, the landlord has to store the goods for 35 days before disposal. The tenant is entitled to claim the goods prior to sale, on payment of reasonable storage costs.
  • Landlords are entitled to deduct removal, storage and disposal costs from the proceeds of any sale, but are required to pay any residual funds to the Residential Tenancies Trust Account in the Department of Building and Housing.
  • Any personal papers unclaimed after 35 days must be handed to the Police.
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