|Published||17 November 2017|
The Tenancy Tribunal deals with disputes between landlords and tenants of residential properties that they are unable to resolve themselves. Section 77(5) of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 limits the amount of money that the Tribunal can award to $50,000.
The Tenancy Tribunal can be a cost-effective option because filing fees cost $20.44 and lawyers are only allowed to represent disputants in limited circumstances. See the part of CourtKeys.com dealing with representation in the tenancy tribunal for more about that.
You can discount your claim to bring it within the $50,000 threshold or otherwise make your claim in the District Court or High Court. The District Court has jurisdiction to hear civil disputes worth up to $200,000. The High Court can hear claims of any value, although you may not be awarded all the costs you might expect if you could have brought your case in a lower court but went to the High Court instead. See, for instance, Northland Coastal Developments Limited v Twce (2014) Limited  NZHC 2638 [28 October 2014].
You could also bring your case before the District or High Court if you cannot bring it before the Tenancy Tribunal because there is no dispute. Then, assuming you are able to obtain a judgment, you could take enforcement action through the courts to compel compliance. See those parts of this text that deal with enforcement for more on that.
Who is a “landlord” and who is a “tenant”?
Section 2 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 provides:
landlord, in relation to any residential premises that are the subject of a tenancy agreement, means the grantor of a tenancy of the premises under the agreement; and, where appropriate, includes –
(a) a prospective landlord; and
(b) a former landlord; and
(c) a lawful successor in title of a landlord to the premises; and
(d) the personal representative of a deceased landlord; and
(e) an agent of a landlord
An “agent of a landlord” could include a property manager.
As for the question of who is a “tenant”, section 2 provides:
tenant, in relation to any residential premises that are the subject of a tenancy agreement, means the grantee of a tenancy of the premises under the agreement; and, where appropriate, includes –
(a) a prospective tenant; and
(b) a former tenant; and
(c) a lawful successor in title of a tenant to the premises; and
(d) the personal representative of a deceased tenant; and
(e) an agent of a tenant
Tenancy Tribunal jurisdiction checklist
The following is a list of key questions to consider when figuring out if the Tenancy Tribunal has jurisdiction to deal with a dispute. The Tribunal probably has jurisdiction if the answer to every question is ‘yes’. However, keep in mind that some of the questions involve terms that have specific definitions. A dispute might have something to do with a residential property, for example, but might not properly come within the jurisdiction of the tenancy tribunal if that has no real relevance to the disputed issues. If you are in doubt about jurisdiction then it might be worth discussing that matter with tenancy tribunal staff or consulting a lawyer before taking further action.
1. Is there a dispute between a “landlord” and a “tenant”?
2. Is the dispute about a residential tenancy?
3. Is the value of the dispute not more than $50,000?
Remedies in the Tenancy Tribunal
It is worth considering the kind of remedies or ‘relief’ or outcome that the Tenancy Tribunal could give you at an early stage. That is because you could waste time and costs reading about or preparing a case for the Tribunal only to find out later that it cannot actually give you what you want. It could be that you should take your case to the District Court or High Court instead.
Examples of the kinds of orders that the Tenancy Tribunal may make include:
1. A ‘possession order’ to have a tenant evicted from a property. This may be given where:
1.1. rent is more than 21 days overdue;
1.2. the tenant is causing substantial damage to the property or threatening to do so;
1.3. the tenant has assaulted or threatened to assault the landlord, or an agent or relation of the landlord, or other tenants or neighbours; or
1.4. the tenant has broken the tenancy agreement, the landlord has given 14 days notice to remedy the breach, the breach remains and the notice has expired.
2. An order to pay money such as unpaid or overpaid rent, compensation for loss or damage or exemplary damages.
Exemplary damages are a kind of punishment for particular wrongs, including breaches of sections of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 that are described as ‘unlawful acts’. Those ‘unlawful acts’, the sections of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 that they relate to and the maximum penalty that may be imposed are set out in Schedule 1A of that Act:
|16A(6)||Landlord failing to appoint agent when outside New Zealand for longer than 21 consecutive days||$1,000|
|17||Requiring key money||$1,000|
|18||Landlord requiring bond greater than amount permitted||$1,000|
|18A||Requiring unauthorised form of security||$1,000|
|19(2)||Breach of duties of landlord on receipt of bond||$1,000|
|23||Landlord requiring rent more than 2 weeks in advance or before rent already paid expires||$1,000|
|27(2)||Landlord requiring rent in excess of market rent order||$200|
|29||Failure by landlord to give receipts for rent||$200|
|33||Landlord seizing or disposing of tenant’s goods||$2,000|
|38(3)||Interference with privacy of tenant||$2,000|
|40(2)(ab)||Interference, etc, with means of escape from fire||$3,000|
|40(3A)(a)||Failing to observe without reasonable excuse, the tenant’s duties upon termination||$1,000|
|40(3A)(c)||Using or permitting premises to be used for unlawful purpose||$1,000|
|40(3A)(d)||Harassment of tenant or neighbour||$2,000|
|40(3A)(e)||Tenant failing to ensure number of residents does not exceed maximum allowed||$1,000|
|44(2A)||Assigning or subletting a tenancy when prohibited to do so or without the landlord’s written consent||$1,000|
|45(1A)||Landlord’s failure to meet obligations in respect of cleanliness, maintenance, or building, or health and safety requirements||$3,000|
|45(2A)||Landlord interfering with supply of services to premises||$1,000|
|46(3)||Altering locks without consent of other party||$1,000|
|48(4)(a)||Unlawful entry by landlord||$1,000|
|61(5)||Abandonment of premises without reasonable excuse||$1,000|
|66G(4)||Harassment of tenant in boarding house||$2,000|
|66I(4)||Landlord of boarding house failing to meet obligations in respect of cleanliness, maintenance, or building, or health and safety requirements||$3,000|
|66J(4)||Landlord of boarding house interfering with services or failing to advise that premises on the market||$1,000|
|66K(2)(b)||Interference, etc, with means of escape from fire||$3,000|
|66K(4)(b)||Using or permitting premises to be used for unlawful purposes||$1,000|
|66K(4)(c)||Harassment of neighbour||$2,000|
|66P(4)||Landlord of boarding house failing to comply with order relating to house rules||$2,000|
|66T(1)||Contraventions relating to entry, or attempted entry, of tenant’s room in boarding house||$1,000|
|66X(5)||Abandonment of premises without reasonable excuse||$1,000|
|108(2A)||Intentional breach of work order||$3,000|
|137(2)||Contracting to contravene or evade the provisions of this Act||$1,000|
3. A ‘work order’ to repair damage or carry out maintenance. A money order may be made where a work order is not complied with.
4. An ‘attachment order’ by consent between the landlord and the tenant at the Tenancy Tribunal hearing. An attachment order is an order that deductions are made from someone’s wages to pay a debt. An attachment order by consent is called an ‘agreed attachment order’.
Jurisdiction for the Tenancy Tribunal to award interest is not expressly provided for in the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. Section 78(1)(d) of that Act gives jurisdiction to make an order that a party pay money to another. Subsection (h) provides the Tribunal may also make “any other order that the High Court or District Court may make under any enactment or rule of law relating to contracts”. Those Courts may order a party to pay damages for breach of contract and interest on damages as well. It may be that the Tribunal would therefore consider it could award interest in some circumstances. You could consult a lawyer for a legal opinion on your particular circumstances if you are interested to claim interest but not prepared to do so without first understanding your legal position. See those parts of CourtKeys.com that relate to interest in the District Courts and in the High Court for more on the ability of those Courts to award interest and when they might do so.
The ability of the Tenancy Tribunal to award costs is set out at section 102 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986:
(1) Except in a case to which any of subsections (2), (4), or (5) apply, the Tribunal shall have no power to award costs to or against any party to proceedings before it.
(2) The Tribunal may make an order of a kind referred to in subsection (3) in any of the following case:
(a) where, in the opinion of the Tribunal, the proceedings are frivolous or vexatious or ought not to have been brought:
(b) where any of the parties was represented by counsel:
(c) where, in the opinion of the Tribunal, the matter in dispute ought reasonably to have been settled before the Tenancy Mediator but that the party against whom the order is to be made refused, without reasonable excuse, to take part in proceedings before a Tenancy Mediator or acted in any such proceedings in a contemptuous or improper manner:
(d) where any applicant to the Tribunal, after receiving notice of the hearing, fails to attend the hearing without good cause.
(3) In any case to which subsection (2) applies, the Tribunal may order a party to pay –
(a) to the Crown, any 1 or more of the following:
(i) the reasonable costs of the Tribunal hearing:
(ii) the fees and expenses of any witness that have been paid or are payable by the Crown:
(iii) the reasonable fees and expenses of any Tenancy Mediator in relation to the preparation of a report under section 99:
(iv) fees and expenses of any valuer in relation to the preparation of a report under section 100; or
(b) to another party, the reasonable costs of that other party in connection with the proceedings.
(4) If the applicant –
(a) has been wholly successful in his or her claim, the Tribunal must order that the respondent pay the applicant the filing fee paid for the application:
(b) has been partly successful in his or her claim, the Tribunal may order that the respondent pay the applicant the filing fee paid for the application.
(5) The Tribunal may make an order to give effect, in whole or in part, to a provision in a tenancy agreement requiring one party (the debtor) to reimburse the other party (the creditor) for any reasonable expenses or commissions paid or incurred by the creditor in recovering, or attempting to recover, any overdue payment that the debtor owes to the creditor under an order of the Tribunal.