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Understanding the Tenancy Tribunal

Whether you're the landlord or tenant of a residential rental property, you'll find this article on the Tenancy Tribunal useful, should you ever find yourself in a dispute arising out of your Tenancy Agreement. That's because the Tenancy Tribunal is a court, part of the Ministry of Justice, which has been set up to deal with unresolved problems between landlords and tenants.

The person who makes a decision on a case is called an adjudicator and his or her decision is binding on all parties. Parties normally represent themselves and it is unusual for parties to be represented by lawyers.

A tenancy adjudicator listens to what each person has to say, hears any witnesses and evidence that either side wants considered, and then makes a decision, guided by the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.

Under the Act, all tenancies entered into after 1 December 1996 must have a written agreement setting out the particular terms that have been agreed to. This agreement should be signed, with a copy being retained by each party. The Tribunal will seek to enforce the terms of the agreement and will seek guidance from the agreement when making a decision. However, if a provision agreed to is inconsistent with the Act or any other legislation, it will not be enforced.

A Tenancy Tribunal hearing is a public hearing and either party may take support people with them.

The adjudicator writes down his or her decision as a Tribunal Order. The landlord and the tenant are each given a copy. The adjudicator's decision carries the same weight as a court order and thus both parties will be required to comply with it.

In most cases, if the decision is simple and straightforward, the parties can get a decision immediately after the hearing. Otherwise, the decision has to be written up by the adjudicator and posted out at a later date.

What kinds of disputes are dealt with by the Tenancy Tribunal?
The Tenancy Tribunal deals with all disputes arising out of residential Tenancy Agreements. This includes disputes about rent and bond.

What types of orders can the Tribunal make?
The Residential Tenancies Act specifies a variety of orders that the Tribunal may make, including:

  • a declaration as to the status of the premises or of any Tenancy Agreement or purported agreement, or as to the rights or obligations of the parties.
  • an order that one party yield possession of the premises to the other.
  • an order that one party deliver any specific chattels to the other.
  • an order that one party pay money to the other.
  • a work order.
  • an order varying the Tenancy Agreement or setting it aside, wholly or in part.
  • any other order that the High Court or District Court could make under contract law.
  • an order dismissing the application.

How do you apply to the Tenancy Tribunal?
You can apply to the Tribunal by contacting your local Tenancy Services office and completing an Application for Order of Tribunal. You can obtain a copy of this form from any office of Tenancy Services, which is part of the Department of Building and Housing. For contact details, see http://www.dbh.govt.nz/housing/tenancy, or alternatively you can ask for a form to be sent out to you by ringing one of the Tenancy Services offices or by ringing the Tenancy Services Centre freephone number 0800 737 666. There is an application fee of $20.

You will be sent a notice of the date, time and place for the hearing. Generally hearings are held within one or two weeks of the application being made, although they can be held at shorter notice in urgent cases.

What if I'm not satisfied with the Tenancy Tribunal's decision?
If you are not satisfied with the Tribunal's decision, you may apply to the Tribunal for a rehearing on the grounds that a substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice has or may have occurred or is likely to occur. You must lodge your application within five working days after the date of the decision (or within any time extension allowed by the Tribunal). You also have a right of appeal to the District Court. However, this right does not apply to interim orders, nor if the decision concerns an amount less than $1,000 or a work order valued at less than $1,000.