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August 1999

Residential Tenancies - A Brief Overview

The law relating to landlords and tenants of residential property is contained in the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 which:

  • Sets out the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants of residential properties;
  • Established the Tenancy Tribunal to quickly determine disputes arising between landlords and tenants of residential properties; and
  • Established a fund in which bonds payable by tenants are held.

Residential premises are defined in the Act as any premises used or intended for occupation by any person as a place of residence. Exclusions to the definition of residential premises include rest homes, hotels, motels and boarding houses.

There are two usual types of residential tenancy:

  • A periodic tenancy (the most common type), which continues until the landlord or the tenant terminate the tenancy by giving notice or the Tenancy Tribunal orders the tenancy to be terminated; and
  • A fixed term tenancy providing for termination on a set date with no provision for either the landlord or the tenant to give notice to terminate.

All residential tenancies must have a written tenancy agreement which is required to include various details, including the names and addresses of the parties, the address of the premises, the commencement date of the tenancy and the amount of rent and bond payable.

At the commencement of the tenancy, the landlord can legally ask the tenant to pay:

  • Up to two weeks’ rent in advance;
  • Up to four weeks’ rent as a bond;
  • The real estate agent’s fee (if any); or
  • The lawyer’s fee (if any).

The landlord may not discriminate against a person due to his or her colour; race; ethnic or national origin; sex; marital status; age; religious or ethical beliefs; having children; employment status; or any other prohibited reasons set out in the Human Rights Act 1993.

To terminate the standard type of periodic tenancy, the tenant must normally give the landlord at least 21 days written notice to terminate the tenancy while the landlord must normally give the tenant at least 90 days written notice. The landlord can, however, give a lesser notice period of 42 days if :

  • The property is required for family members or employees; or
  • There is an agreement to sell the property, with vacant possession.

In the case of a fixed term tenancy, the tenancy automatically ends on the day stated in the tenancy agreement.

In the event of disputes relating to rental accommodation, the best thing you can do to resolve any disagreement is to try to discuss the issue with the other party. If the dispute cannot be resolved, then you may need to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to resolve the matter for you.

The Tenancy Tribunal is a type of court with the sole purpose of resolving disputes between landlords and tenants of residential property. The Tribunal prefers that you and the other party personally appear rather than your representative or your lawyer. However, in special cases, the Tribunal will allow your lawyer to represent you if, for example, there are complicated matters to be resolved.

On receipt of an application the Tribunal first offers mediation. If mediation is not successful the Tribunal will hear the dispute. An "adjudicator" listens to both sides of the dispute and makes a decision which is usually final. However, in very special circumstances, you may appeal the decision of the adjudicator to the Courts.

If you are unable to resolve your tenancy dispute directly with the other party, we suggest you first discuss the matter with your nearest Tenancy Services office. If you require further advice, please contact us as we may be able to assist you with any application to the Tenancy Tribunal and in some circumstances, appear on your behalf at the Tenancy Tribunal.