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What happens when a rental property becomes uninhabitable due to a natural disaster

Alide Elkink  |  April 20, 2023

In light of the recent natural disasters that have seen many houses around the country ‘red-stickered’, what is the recourse for tenants when their rental property is damaged or becomes uninhabitable?

If a rental property is damaged as a result of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood, cyclone or slip, the tenant should get in touch with their landlord or property manager.  Repairing damage as a result of a natural disaster is the responsibility of the landlord. Tenants are not responsible for repairs or the clean-up following a natural disaster.

If your rental property becomes uninhabitable

 If the rental property is so badly damaged as to be uninhabitable:

  • the rent should be reduced according to the specific circumstances, and
  • either party may give notice to terminate the tenancy.

Notice to terminate the tenancy applies to both fixed-term and periodic tenancies. Tenants must give 2 days’ notice while landlords must give 7 days’ notice. Tenants do not need to wait for emergency services or the Tenancy Tribunal to declare a rental property is unsafe or uninhabitable before leaving.

If your rental property is seriously damaged and partially uninhabitable

 If the property has sustained damage that renders it partially uninhabitable,

  • the rent should reduce accordingly, and
  • either party may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for an order to terminate the tenancy.

The Tenancy Tribunal will decide if it is unreasonable to require:

  • the landlord to reinstate the property, or
  • the tenant to continue the tenancy at a reduced rent.

Where a property can be repaired, the landlord must advise the tenants how long the repairs will take. A rent reduction should be offered to compensate for inconvenience but it may be preferable to agree to an early termination of the tenancy.

Where the tenant remains in the property during reparation, s.48 of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) 1986 requires the landlord to give 24 hours’ notice before undertaking any inspections of the work.

If the tenant moves out for the duration of repairs

 If the tenant decides to move out for the duration of the repairs, the landlord is not obliged to find them somewhere else to live and tenants are not required to pay rent until they can move back into the property.

Unable to reach agreement

 The best case scenario is that a rental property is not damaged as the result of a natural disaster but in the case that it does occur, landlord and tenants should discuss and try to agree on a viable option with regard to continuing or ending a tenancy. Any agreement should be in writing and include what has been agreed on. Both landlord and tenants should retain a copy of the agreement.

Where the tenants and landlord cannot resolve an issue or reach agreement, both parties should follow the disputes resolution process or contact Tenancy Services.