This change to the Residential Tenancies Act provides clarity on what a minor change is and sets the process for a tenant requesting a minor change, a landlord consenting to the request, and reinstatement at the end of the tenancy.
What meets the definition of a minor change?
Minor changes have the following attributes:
- they present a low risk of damage to the property.
- they are of a nature that allows the property to be easily returned to a reasonably similar condition at the end of the tenancy.
- they do not pose a health and safety risk that is not able to be sufficiently mitigated, including during installation and removal.
- they have no impacts on third parties.
- they require no consent under law (e.g. a building consent).
- they do not breach bylaws, body corporate rules, covenants, or other obligations or restrictions relevant to the premises.
It will be unreasonable for a landlord to decline a request for something that has these traits.
What are examples of minor changes?
Depending on the circumstances, examples of minor changes could include:
- installing minor accessibility changes that improve safety for disabled people such as visual alerts for fire, security alarms and doorbells, where this has low impacts and will be reversed at the conclusion of the tenancy.
- securing furniture or appliances to protect against earthquake risk or to make a property child safe
- installing dishwashers and washing machines
- installing a baby gate
- affixing child safe latches to cupboards
- installing shelving
- installing television aerials
- installing gardens when these can be returned to the original state at the conclusion of the tenancy
- installing curtains and window coverings
- installing internal locks provided they are compliant with relevant fire safety laws; and
- installing picture hooks.
Is painting considered a minor change?
A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesman said whether a specific change like painting walls was within the scope of the revamped law would be situation dependent:
"A landlord and tenant should consider the elements of the definition and how they apply to the property and proposed change. Will it be easy to reverse? Is there a low risk of damage?", the spokesman asked. "It is possible that painting walls may be considered out of scope as it may not be easy to return the walls to a reasonably similar condition at the end of the tenancy. If there is a dispute between a landlord and tenant, the Tenancy Tribunal can hear the dispute and will decide each case on the individual facts of the situation. It is also worth noting that tenants are not permitted to undertake minor changes without landlord consent," the Ministry spokesman said.
What is the process?
A tenant must make a request for the minor change in writing and the landlord must respond to this request within 21 days.
If the requested change is minor, it is not reasonable to decline. If the landlord declines unreasonably, the tenant can take the landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal and they could be liable for a penalty of up to $1,500. If the change is more than minor, a landlord can decline if the request is unreasonable. This will depend on the situation and landlords should weigh up the benefits and potential impacts to their property of the change the tenant is proposing.
Do tenants need to remove any changes installed during the tenancy?
Yes, tenants must return the premises to substantially the same condition as before the changes were made, including removing the changes, unless the tenant and landlord agree otherwise. Landlords can seek remedy at the Tenancy Tribunal if the tenant does not reverse the change. As well as the cost of remediation, the tenant may be liable for an additional penalty of up to $1,500 if they fail to reverse a minor change that the landlord didn’t agree to keep.
Your Harcourts property manager will recommend the appropriate course of action in the event of a request from your tenant. They can ascertain whether a requested change meets the definition of ‘minor’ and will ensure that any alterations are reversed at the end of a tenancy.
This article is featured in Harcourts Property Management Focus, Issue 2 2021.