How to maintain a rental property Part 1: Knowing your obligations
 

Maintaining a rental property in Christchurch can be tough. The eternal problem for landlords is that you are responsible for its overall upkeep, yet you don’t have constant access. In fact, much of the time you are nowhere near your rental property – whether you live in Christchurch or not! We’re pretty good at dealing with landlords and tenants to keep properties in good condition and foster positive relationships, so we thought we’d use our expertise in the Christchurch property market to put together a handy guide for landlords to keep their properties in good nick. The first part of our guide to maintaining a rental property is making sure you know your obligations. In our next parts, we’ll cover tips and tricks to help prevent maintenance issues before a tenant even arrivces, and an action plan to help make sure everything stays in good condition throughout the tenancy.

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Step 1: Know your obligations as a property owner

Heading straight to the source, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spells it out pretty clearly:

You must:

  • allow the tenant quiet enjoyment of the premises (which means not harassing the tenant or interfering with their reasonable peace, comfort and privacy, or allowing others to do so)
  • comply with all building, health and safety standards that apply to the premises
  • pay rates and insurance
  • give the tenant appropriate receipts and statement for rent payments and written notice of any rent increase
  • maintain the property in a reasonable state of repair during the tenancy
  • tell the tenant in writing if the property is on the market for sale.

In terms of maintenance, there are three key requirements:

  1. The property must be in a reasonable state of repair
  2. The premisees is required to be in a reasonable state of cleanliness for an incoming tenant
  3. The building must be up to code in terms of both building and healthy and safety standards.

 

Keeping your rental property in a reasonable state of repair

The official rules for the maintenance processes are as follows:

Landlords

If something gets damaged, it is the landlord’s responsibility to get it fixed. While the tenant is responsible for any damage that they, or their guests, cause (either intentionally or carelessly), however, anything that consists of normal wear and tear to the rental property, you will be responsible for fixing. Some examples of things a landlord needs to take care of: plumbing, leaks, external and unforseen damage e.g. as a result of a storm.

Landlords also need to ensure the locks are adequate (i.e. basic safety and security requirements). If the house cannot be secured, the landlord is responsible for remedying the problem.

An important thing to note, however, is that if you need to enter the property, even to fix something, you have to give the tenant 24 hours written notice of entry to repair.

Tenants

Tenants need to notify you immediately if something needs to be repaired, no matter who is responsible for it. If the tenant caused the damange and the landlord feels that the problem can be fixed , landlords can give tenants a a Notice to remedy giving them 14 days to get the work done.

If the work is not done within the 14 days, the landlord can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for:

  • an order to do the repairs, or
  • the tenancy to be ended for breaching the tenancy agreement, if it is decided the situation is serious enough.

If the repair work is your responsibility and is an urgent problem you must pay back the tenant if they had to get it fixed urgently, provided they made reasonable attempts to contact you. For example, if a pipe burst over the weekend and the tenants couldn’t get hold of the landlord, they are entitled to fix the problem right away and pass on an invoice/request a refund.

This goes beyond making sure there’s a roof over your tenants head, running water and the electricity can be connected. It is important that the property remains clean and tidy, but there are some

Protecting yourself as a property owner

If this all sounds like a lot of responsibility, you’re not wrong. Any old storm can whip through and cost you a lot of money, and ‘reasonable wear and tear’ sounds all a bit fuzzy. Let alone what terror a tenant could potentially unleash. Did someone say meth lab? With this in mind, Insurance needs to be treat as a ‘must’ rather than a ‘should.’ MBIE has some good information about this on their insurance advice page.

Ensuring your rental property is in a reasonable state of cleanliness

This particular requirement is actually one to think about before tenants move in. Use your common sense, and think about the level of cleanliness you’d want to see in a new rental property. This includes getting rid of rubbish and mess both inside and out, and making sure it is well cleaned. Take note of any permanent stains (especially in the carpets) to ensure there are no disputes at the end of the tenancy.

Ensuring your rental property meets health, safety and building standards

The three pieces of legislation you need to be aware of are:

  • Building Act 2004 and the Building Code
  • Health Act 1956, and
  • Housing Improvement Regulations and bylaws made under the Local Government Act 2002. These are set by individual councils.

Most of the Building Act refers to new buildings/additions, but the key parts of the building act for existing buildings are:

Read more at MBIE.

The Health Act requires healthy, safe living standards and contains stipulations around adequate drinking water being supplied.

Reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that your property isn’t overly susceptible to mould, bug/animal infestations or dampness.

As for housing improvement regulations, this is the domain of the Christchurch City Council (or your local council if you are within a different regional council’s jurisdiction). You should make sure you get familiar with their by-laws and ask for advice if you have questions. The Home Living section of the Christchurch City Council is a great place to start. There are also some regionally specific regulations around earthquake safety – be sure to check in with MBIE and read their advice on it.

Getting it right

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all your obligations, don’t worry! You are not alone. This is why many property owners choose to engage a professional property manager to handle all the legal requirements and to make sure they are getting it right. If you’d like to know more about how property management works, don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Stay tuned for our next post, it will be chock full of practical tips and advice for property managers to ensure their property is future-tenant-proofed as much as possible.