Ask any renter and they will tell you that entering into a new tenancy agreement can be fraught.

Much of this comes down to what is in the agreement and confusion over what landlords can actually enforce under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).

So, here are a few things to be aware of when navigating a rental agreement.

What does a tenancy agreement need?

A tenancy agreement needs to be in writing. However, the RTA still applies to verbal agreements, so people can’t get out of their legal obligations by just avoiding signing anything.

Landlords must give their new tenants a copy of the agreement before the tenancy begins.

A tenancy agreement is a legal document so only sign on the dotted line once you’re sure you want to rent the place.

Tenants should also carefully read what’s in the agreement and make sure they understand what they’re agreeing to before they sign it. They should seek advice before signing if they don’t fully understand anything.

By law, a tenancy agreement must have certain information such as names, contact details, the amount and frequency of rent payments, and any chattels being provided. A full list of that mandatory information can be found on the Tenancy Services website.

Landlords must also include additional statements about insurance, insulation, and compliance with healthy home standards.

There are some simple tenancy agreement templates that can be used, however a landlord is allowed to draw up their own agreement, so long as it includes the legally required minimum information – and doesn’t include any conditions that breach the law.

What are some examples of those breaches?

Here are a few examples of conditions known to pop up in rental agreements that landlords can’t legally enforce.

Carpets need to be professionally cleaned at the end of the tenancy. Tenants don’t need to get carpets professionally cleaned – their obligation is to leave the property in a reasonably clean and tidy state when the tenancy ends.

No parties and no visitors without the landlord’s consent. Tenants are allowed to have “quiet enjoyment” of a property while they’re renting it. Trying to enforce these types of rules for visitors or parties would be in breach of that quiet enjoyment.

Tenants must pay for fixed water charges. It is the landlord who pays fixed water charges. Tenants pay for metered water charges.

The landlord can raise the rent with one week’s notice. Landlords must give at least 60 days’ notice in writing of a rent increase and that increase can only take place 12 months after the tenancy has started. After that, increases can only happen again once every 12 months.

There is no legal limit on how much rent can be increased by.

There are some conditions where a rent increase can be agreed to earlier, which are listed on the Tenancy Services website.

Tenants should also look out for any conditions that state the landlord can increase rent if the tenancy agreement has been breached in any way – this is not allowed.

Changes to notice periods for ending a tenancy. Sometimes, landlords will try and add clauses around how much notice either the landlord or tenant must give when ending the tenancy.

Legally, tenants currently need to give four weeks’ notice to leave a tenancy, while landlords must give three months’ notice if tenants need to leave because the landlord is either selling the propertyl or planning to move into it themselves.

However, the Government is planning to reduce those timeframes this year, with tenants having to give 21 days’ notice and landlords having to give 42 days’ notice if they want to move into the home or sell it.

The Government is also planning to once again allow landlords to serve tenants with a 90-day eviction notice without having to provide a reason for it.

A packet of cigarettes (file photo)

Tenants are not allowed to smoke or vape anywhere on the property. While landlords can enforce a condition that tenants don’t smoke inside a rental, they can’t enforce this across the entire premises.

Inspections of the property can take place at any time. A landlord must give at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the rental to do any repairs or maintenance. They have to give at least 48 hours’ notice before doing an inspection inside the property or to test for meth contamination.

There are limits on how often a landlord can conduct inspections.

Landlords don’t need to give notice to go on to the land at the property, however. This is usually where landlords have agreed to mow lawns or do other ongoing outdoor maintenance – but they need to do so in a way that doesn’t interfere with a tenant’s peace or privacy.

Other conditions to keep an eye out for include references to letting fees (these are banned) or other admin fees or charges that might creep their way into a rental agreement and are not allowed.

A rental agreement might also claim the tenancy isn’t covered by the RTA, which is false. A tenant can’t sign away their rights, so even if they do sign an agreement that contains any of the above conditions, those conditions still can’t be enforced.

So, what conditions can landlords legally add to rental agreements?

Pets are not a given in a rental situation

Landlords can include extra conditions to a tenancy agreement if they relate to things that could damage the property, such as cars not being parked on the lawn, for example.

Landlords can also ban pets. But if a landlord does allow pets, it’s a good idea to have some specific conditions about the pets in the rental agreement, such as the number and type allowed.

Landlords can’t currently ask tenants to pay more than the maximum four weeks’ rent as bond to cover for pets.

The new Government does have plans to introduce a “pet bond”, where tenants can pay higher bonds to cover damage caused by pets. However, tenants are already legally responsible for any damage (other than fair wear and tear) they might cause to a rental and that includes damage by pets.

A tenancy agreement can also state a limit on how many people can live in the house – which leads us to the tenant versus flatmate issue.

There are legal differences between being a tenant and a flatmate.

A tenant is the person or people who sign the tenancy agreement with the landlord. A flatmate is someone who hasn’t signed the agreement but is living at the rental.

Flatmates are not covered by the RTA and are not legally responsible for the property. If a flatmate damages the property or fails to pay their share of the rent, it’s the people with their name on the tenancy agreement who are responsible – so choose those flatmates carefully!

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