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Once you've decided on the flat you want, there are a few things you'll need to sort out.
LeasesThe legal contract between you and your landlord is called your Tenancy Agreement or Lease. These are very important and it's vital you know what you're signing.
Fixed versus Periodic Leases
In North Dunedin, most leases are fixed term, and run from January 1st to December 31st. You have to keep paying until the end of the lease, even if yo're not living in the flat, unless you can find someone to take your place.
Joint versus Individual LeasesYou and your flatmates will either have a separate lease each (individual leases), or one lease with everyone's names on it (a joint lease).
Unless you have individual leases, the law treats you all as one tenant, or 'jointly and severally liable'. This means that you can be held responsible for what your flatmates do.
Worst case scenario: You and five mates find an amazing flat. You're the only one available to sign the lease, so you go ahead and do it. But over the next few weeks the others change their minds about the flat, and one decides to not come back to Dunedin. As the only person with their name on the lease, you have to pay for the whole thing – $650 per week – until you find other people willing to share the flat with you.
OR: You live in an amazing flat with 4 friends. One night, you and 3 of your flatties are out partying while one stays home to study. He falls asleep on the couch while making a midnight snack of instant noodles. The pot of noodles boils dry and sets the kitchen on fire. Sleeping flattie wakes up and gets the hell out of there. Within minutes the whole house and the one next-door are up in flames. The flatmate responsible catches the next plane to Australia and is never heard from again. YOU and the other remaining flatmates get a $1,000,000 bill from your landlord’s insurance company. Yes, YOU have to pay even though you weren’t even there. And yes, this has happened before.
Doesn’t sound fair, does it? ASK your landlord if you can be on individual leases. Even go along equipped with pre-printed and signed tenancy agreements printed off the Department of Building and Housing website (dbh.govt.nz/pub-new-tenancy).
If you do sign a joint lease, make sure you have personal liability insurance – it will cover your ass in some of the situations described above.
BondThe landlord can legally ask for a bond that’s equivalent to up to four weeks rent.
Advance rentThe landlord can ask you for up to two weeks rent in advance.
Condition of flatThe landlord should make sure the flat is in a reasonably clean and tidy state when you move in. If it’s not, talk to the landlord at the time. Don’t assume you can just leave the flat as you found it when it’s time to move out – you may lose your bond. The same is true for you, you have the leave the flat reasonably clean and tidy, not commercially cleaned!
Property inspection reportThis is a report that you and your landlord conduct before you move in. It is where any existing damage to the flat is noted down so that you don’t get accused of doing it when you move out and lose your bond. It’s really important that you do this! If your landlord forgets, remind them, or you could end up out of pocket.
Previous tenants’ stuffThe landlord is responsible for making sure that the old tenants’ stuff isn’t cluttering the flat when you move in. However, they can’t just throw out the old tenants’ stuff. They have to put it in storage.
Recent ChangesThe Act was recently updated, here are a few important things to know:
A number of unlawful acts have been added including: