CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour)
: As I was saying when the debate was interrupted, the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill has a number of fundamental principles attached to it, one of which is the provision of stable housing. It attempts to clarify the rights and obligations of both tenants and landlords. That is important because we need to recognise that, like the employment situation, the residential tenancy situation is not always a level playing field, and the stakes for people are quite different. For people renting their house, that is their home. It is a place where they live with their family and bring up their family. Hopefully, they make connections in their community, and their
children go to school there, and so on. Although it is important to get right that balance of the rights of both tenants and landlords, it is also important to know that tenants have a lot at stake in terms of their residential property.
So when we look at this bill, we see that some changes have been made to the original Labour bill, and I want to highlight them for people. We have supported this bill going to a select committee, but we will be scrutinising some of these changes. In the bill that Labour put forward, we talked about limiting the tenant liability for damage to their rental premises to 4 weeks’ rent if the Tenancy Tribunal was satisfied that the tenant neither caused the damage intentionally or recklessly, nor intentionally or recklessly encouraged or permitted another person to damage the premises. We also allowed for tenants’ breaches, such as subletting without consent, overpopulating the premises, or becoming a problem neighbour, to be subject to exemplary damages as an alternative to eviction. That is important because eviction means ultimately that people are on the street without a house, in some situations. Those provisions have been removed from the bill. So during the select committee consideration we will certainly be looking to improve the bill along those lines, and, if necessary, introducing amendments to that effect.
Clause 35 would require the Tenancy Tribunal to terminate a tenancy in a case where a tenant has permitted someone else to assault, or threaten to assault, specified persons, including the tenant’s landlord and neighbours. That has related to a particular Housing New Zealand Corporation case of recent incident. In that case, gang members staying with Housing New Zealand Corporation - tenanted partners allegedly threatened neighbours.
CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier)
: I will take just a brief call as we go forward with the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill this evening. It is great to be able to welcome the Minister of Housing, Phil Heatley, to the House tonight. He has introduced the bill into the House, and it is great to see him here doing such a wonderful job with it.
It is important that the bill sets the basis of the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. It is a good thing that we review the various parts of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 as we take it forward into a new century, and consider the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. The fact is we have all been tenants at some stage of our lives. The bill is not about the rich versus the poor; it is about the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. Right now, many MPs in this House continue to be tenants; they rent properties in the Greater Wellington central business district. It is important that we continue to update the legislation as time goes on; it is important legislation.
One of the key features of the bill is that it will extend the Act’s coverage. One point, which I saw briefly, is that the Act will be rolled out to cover boarding houses. Some members will remember that towards the end of the previous Labour Government’s term there was a significant issue about the way in which the landlords of boarding houses were treating their tenants.
Hon Maryan Street: That’s why we put them in the bill.
CHRIS TREMAIN: It is good to see Maryan Street, who was the Minister of Housing at that time, in the House tonight, and good to hear that she brought that matter into the legislation at that point in time. It is very important that we consider the relationship between boarding-house owners and their tenants. While I am talking about the previous Minister, I must say that she brought into a previous bill an item regarding the tenant’s requirement—
Hon Maryan Street: Liability!
CHRIS TREMAIN: Liability for damage. It got defeated in the House, if I recall correctly. It is one measure that I do not see going forward in any sort of legislation. It is irresponsible for us to take away the liability of a tenant for damage caused while that person is the tenant. It is irresponsible, and it takes away the responsibility of the relationship. When one takes on the tenancy of a property, one is responsible for that property. If a tenant holds a party and someone comes along as a guest—or even not as a guest—and kicks a hole in the door, then I am sorry but the tenant is responsible. As I see it, it will remain that way. That is a small point I wanted to make.
There is a range of changes in the bill. They extend the Act’s coverage, as I have mentioned. They clarify the responsibility for outgoings, so that it is clear who is responsible for rates, electricity charges, and those sorts of expenses. We are clarifying the status of body corporate rules, and providing remedies should they change during the course of a tenancy. We are introducing new processes for terminating and renewing tenancies. I think it is extremely important to know how they will work within the contract.
We are encouraging landlords and tenants to comply with their obligations. At the end of the day, that is the important thing. The reality is that by far the majority of tenancies in this country work extremely well. There is a strong relationship between the landlord and the tenant. In fact, it is in the landlord’s interest for the tenant to remain there and to continue to pay the rent. It is in the landlord’s interest to keep the tenant happy. That has been my experience, and I believe that that is the way that the legislation will be implemented as we go forward. I recommend the bill to the House. It is good legislation.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing)
: I move,
the Social Services Committee consider the bill; that the committee report to the House on or before 5 October 2009; and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and to meet outside the Wellington region during a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187, 189, and 190(1)(b), and (c).