Rental housing is about to get simpler — or is it?

A third of New Zealanders are now long-term renters, and the government has said it intends making life better for them. But making things better for landlords will also improve the local rental culture, according to one legal expert.

The government is currently working to reform the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 to better reflect a market in which home ownership is at a 60-year low and more than four in every 10 kids now live in some kind of rental accommodation. The downward trend in ownership looks almost certain to continue over the coming decades.

In addition to ensuring housing is warm and dry, and renting becomes more stable and secure in the years ahead, the role of the Tenancy Tribunal is also being scrutinised.

A discussion document issued by MBIE looks at increasing the amount of notice a landlord must generally give tenants to terminate a tenancy from 42 days to 90 days. It asks whether changes to fixed-term agreements are justified to improve the security of tenure. It also proposes limiting rent increases to just once a year.

Jamie Nunns, a partner at JB Morrison, believes that the mooted reforms will achieve the most if they help simplify the current situation rather than adding new complexities overall — rather like the approach of his own firm as it has positioned itself in recent years as a medium-sized nimble alternative to other larger law firms.

“There are more tenancies around today than there were in 1986 — and indeed more people who are probably going to be tenants all their lives — so a simplification of the law would be sensible,” he says.

Reform in which the law is clarified and simplified will lessen the amount of legal work that is required for everybody, but also make such work that is required less in terms of the number of hours clocked up.

“But balance is also important.”

Until now, the “post-feudal” legal emphasis has been on making the law more and more tenant-friendly. Yet for both landlords and tenants to prosper in this new-style European-type arrangement, laws and practices should be mutually beneficial.

In reality, Nunns says, a property is equally important to both its owner and tenant: for the first, because is it’s their asset, for the other, because it’s their home.

“So really, we should also be encouraging people to be good landlords, too.”

The timing of the coming reforms has been opportune for JB Morrison’s ongoing work to reaffirm itself as a property law leader.

The firm is investing heavily in client-focused technology, “including an online interface between us and the client — a repository really — that allows people to look at their property details, the various files relating to work we’ve done for them, or stock agreements that the client may wish to use each and every time they need to.”

The new technology will also provide updates on changes to the law and market — something clients will obviously benefit from having at their fingertips without additional charge.

Among those who stand to benefit from this are not only the many property managers already on the firm’s books but smaller operators, owners and tenants.

That kind of simplicity and coherence, Nunns says, is what enduring law reform needs to reflect.

If you have got a property-related matter you would like to discuss with a legal expert, visit and find who’s best to pick up a conversation with or call Jamie Nunns on 04 495 8912 today.

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