Landlords are (Once Again) Pressuring Students to Sign Early

Landlords are (Once Again) Pressuring Students to Sign Early

Apparently, once a lease expires, so does a landlord's knowledge of the law

It’s that time of year again: students are feeling the pressure to decide whether to re-sign or leave their current flats for 2024. If you’re on a fixed-term lease, you don’t actually need to do this until 28 days before departure. Critic Te Ārohi spoke to a couple students who’ve been pressured by their landlords to make the call, with tactics ranging from whiny nagging to downright aggressive.

Let’s make this clear: students don’t have to finalise their flatting plans - or even tell their landlords what’s up - until the beginning of December. But in an annual phenomenon unique to Dunedin, students race to secure flats as early as May or June. Landlords and property managers capitalise on this mid-year frenzy by pestering their tenants, and then get busy advertising and offering flat viewings.

In Katie’s* case, her landlord straight-up skipped the consultation stage and advertised her flat as “available” to rent in 2024. This was news to Katie and her flatmates, though, which they found out about when the landlord dropped off paperwork. The landlord instructed the tenants to specify whether they would re-sign the flat or if they’d be requiring a reference for somewhere else. Bold. Despite Katie’s flat having not actually decided what they’d be doing, a few days later they received a text asking if they could hold a flat viewing. “We’re all a bit confused and feel a lot of pressure,” said Katie.

Law student Dan* and his flatties had a similar experience last May, when their old landlord asked whether he’d be interested in renting his flat again for 2023. In an email, his landlord said Dan and his flatties had been great tenants - then proceeded to reward them with an attractive $100 rent increase for 2024. Thanks, I guess? Initially, they didn’t reply. But when the landlord told him that without an answer they would start advertising to new tenants, Dan was quick to point out the law did not require them to do anything until 28 days before their tenancy ended. Dan said the communications kept going “back and forth” and that, despite knowing his rights, “I nearly caved as I was being gaslit.” Eventually, Dan informed the landlord they would not be re-signing.

Fixed-term tenants can combat these pressure tactics by ignoring those landlord requests or, alternatively, saying that you don’t know what your intentions are yet. If your fixed-term runs until 31 December 2023 (as studentville flats tend to) you won’t have to give notice of your intended departure until 3 December - a whole seven months after Dan’s landlord had indicated.

Recognising the persistence of this issue, Community Law Otago (CLO) contacted Critic Te Ārohi in the hopes of providing some clarity and guidance about what your rights are.

Legal jargon incoming, but it’s important: they explained that the law basically says that if you enter into or renew a fixed-term tenancy after 11 February 2021 (when more legal protections were made part of the Residential Tenancies Act), it becomes “periodic tenancy” at the end of the fixed term. So after your lease ends you can choose to stay on, no problem, but if you want to leave you only need to give 28 days’ notice. In terms of whether a landlord can end the tenancy, they must give 90 days’ notice for property sale or renovations, and 63 day’s notice if the landlord or their family are planning on moving in themselves (lol imagine).

CLO also reported that some landlords have been sneaking bogus clauses into fixed-terms contracts, like: “It is hereby agreed by both landlord and tenants that this lease is a fixed term lease by mutual agreement and the tenancy will end on the [end date] and will not automatically turn into a periodic lease.” Clauses like these have been found legally unenforceable by the courts. It might look and sound legit, but don’t stress if you’ve found a similar clause in your contract.

As if renting in Aotearoa wasn’t already a hellscape, last week the National Party promised that, if elected this year, they will remove the legal rules allowing fixed-term tenancies to roll into periodic tenancies and reintroduce ‘no-cause’ terminations. Currently, landlords have to provide a legally-justifiable reason before evicting their tenants (such as: they have decided to sell the property or repeated anti-social behaviour by renters).

The proposed changes by National mean that your tenancy could be ended for any reason and you wouldn’t be entitled to know what it was or dispute it. New Zealand Property Investors' Federation vice president Peter Lewis said these changes would provide security to landlords who have been discouraged from participating in the rental market. Not having to provide a reason for termination would be useful for dealing with tenants "before they get too feral". Don’t @ me like that.

*Names changed.

This article first appeared in Issue 10, 2023.
Posted 2:06pm Sunday 7th May 2023 by Rosa Hehir.