A Bill which provides better protections and clarity for tenants and landlords has passed its First Reading in Parliament 105-14, Building and Construction Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“The Bill makes sensible and timely changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to help ensure our tenancy laws better manage methamphetamine contamination, liability for careless damage and the tenancy of unsuitable properties. It builds on the changes we made last year requiring smoke alarms and insulation, and establishing a Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team,” Dr Smith says.

“This Bill recognises that meth contamination of properties has become a significant issue that needs clearer direction. We want homes to be safe but we also don’t want properties being vacated when the risks are low.

“Landlords will have easier access to test for meth and tenants will be able to terminate their tenancy if it presents at unsafe levels. Standards New Zealand last week released a new threshold, raising it to 1.5μg/100cm2 from the current 0.5μg/100cm2. It also has clear methods for sampling and testing, and competency requirements for samplers and decontamination contractors. The Bill will enable these changes to be legally recognised and enforceable before the Tenancy Tribunal.

“The Bill also addresses tenant liability for careless damage, in response to a Court of Appeal decision last year. The changes are needed to ensure tenants have an incentive to take good care of a property, to encourage cost effective insurance arrangements and ensure landlords are not out of pocket for tenant damage to rental their properties. Tenants will be liable for the cost of their landlord’s insurance excess up to a maximum of four weeks’ rent for each incident of damage caused by carelessness. A tenant remains fully liable where the damage is deliberate or a criminal act, and the landlord liable for fair wear and tear and damage beyond the control of the tenant, like a natural disaster.

“It also strengthens the law for prosecuting landlords who tenant unsuitable properties. The Tenancy Tribunal’s jurisdiction is currently limited to residential buildings, meaning those who rent out unlawfully converted garages, warehouses or industrial buildings as living spaces can avoid accountability.

“These improvements to our tenancy laws are part of the Government’s broader comprehensive housing reforms. We are achieving record levels of investment in new home construction, our Kiwisaver HomeStart programme is providing record levels of support for first home buyers and we are seeing ongoing improvement in the quality of our homes with smoke alarms, insulation and increased enforcement of minimum standards.

“This bill will result in fewer properties being vacated over the meth issue, better incentives for tenants to care for properties and tougher enforcement of landlords renting unsuitable properties.

“The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No.2) has been referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee for consideration where the public will be invited to make submissions.

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