Damage, meth tinkering tangles tenancy law

Political meddling with the Residential Tenancies Act regarding damage to rental properties, meth contamination, and living in garages, has just made tenancy law more complex and litigious, Tenancies War spokesman Mike Butler said today

Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2), which seeks to address issues related to liability for damage, methamphetamine contamination, and living in garages, passed its third reading on Wednesday. The bill:

  1. Makes tenants liable for careless damage up to four weeks of rent or their landlord’s insurance excess, whichever is lower.
  2. Extends the definition of “residential premises” to ensure that all premises which are used or intended to be used for residential occupation are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act,
  3. Provides yet another regime to address any health risks of any harmful substance in rental properties, including methamphetamine.
  4. Enables tenancies where contamination has been established to be terminated in two days.

“The architect of this bill, Nick Smith, and the current Minister responsible, Kris Faafoi, should explain how limiting a tenant’s liability for accidental destruction of, let’s say, a $500,000 house, to four week’s rent, is either fair or just,” Mr Butler said.

Tenancy Tribunal hearings concerning damage will become more complex and many more cases will be appealed through the court system, as you can see from the following clause that says:

(a) it is for the landlord to prove—
(i) that any damage is not fair wear and tear; and
(ii) that any destruction or damage occurred in circumstances described in subsection (1)(b); and
(iii) that any insurance moneys are irrecoverable for the reasons described in subsection (3A)(a); and
(b) it is for the tenant to prove—
(i) that any destruction or damage was not intentionally done or caused as described in subsection (1)(a); and
(ii) that any destruction or damage was not caused by a careless act or omission described in subsection (2).

“Moreover, the bill fails to address a substantial legal anomaly in that people who wilfully damage rental property manage to escape the consequences of a wilful damage conviction under the Crime Act, which carries a jail term of seven years,” he said.

“Regarding contaminants, the issue of evidence of harm has been avoided, and the bill assumes that current level of 15 millionths of a gram per 100 square centimetres is a meaningful indicator of harm, which it is not,” Mr Butler said.

“The bill should have simply stated that the onus was on anyone claiming harm from a contaminated tenancy to provide evidence of harm,” Mr Butler said.

Treating garages as residential premises to extend coverage of the RTA to them so that they confirmed as non-residential is the sort of thing that gives rise to the expression “the law is an ass”, he said.

“This bill, that seeks to clean up messes created by the Tenancy Tribunal, the Court of Appeal, and the previous Government, has just made the issues more unfair and complex and litigious,” Mr Butler said.

Stop the War on Tenancies is a group that since last October has been highlighting the evidence that successive governments have ignored while creating rental property policy and law.