Rental applications, tenancy agreements, bond and other costs. Avoid common mistakes by understanding the essentials.

Before renting there's a lot to think about. You need to:

  • find a place and put in an application
  • find money for bond, rent in advance and getting set up
  • sign the tenancy agreement and pay your bond.

Finding a rental — be prepared

There are lots of things to consider when finding a rental. The location, price, size, accessibility and if the rental is furnished, all matter. Landlords don't have to provide appliances like washing machines, microwaves and fridges but some do.

Depending on how tight the market is, it could take multiple applications to secure a place.

You might need to make decisions quickly. Prevent last-minute stress by having your paperwork ready before you visit a house.

Landlords and property managers might ask for:

  • Pre-tenancy application form — if there isn't a link on the property advert, ask the landlord/property manager to send it to you. Bring a filled out copy with you to the open home to apply on the spot.
  • Referees — list a previous landlord as one of your referees. This gives information about what you are like as a tenant. Other referees could be your employer or senior colleague, a teacher or lecturer, or coach. Make sure you ask your referees first, check if they're available to talk to the landlord, and their contact details are correct.
  • Rental history — write down dates and addresses of your previous homes, including why you left each property.
  • Proof of income — a payslip or bank statement will work. If you don't want to show your entire bank statement you can cover entries so the landlord can only see what they need to. This is called a redacted bank statement.
  • Credit check — the landlord/property manager will do this, but they need your permission.
  • Photo identification — drivers license, passport, Kiwi Access card.

Decisions from the Tenancy Tribunal are public. Consider telling a potential landlord about your past cases before they find it themselves.

What a landlord can ask you

Landlords must respect your privacy rights when they ask you questions.

The Privacy Act says your landlord or property manager:

  • Can ask you for information that is relevant to finding a tenant, eg your name, proof of identity, pet ownership. This can sometimes extend to things like for proof of income as this gives them information about whether you will be able to pay the rent consistently.
  • Cannot ask you for personal information that is irrelevant to your tenancy, eg your political opinion, relationship status or sexual orientation. If they ask for this kind of information and then use it to make a decision, they might be breaching the Residential Tenancies Act due to discrimination.
  • Must tell you why they're collecting the information — including what it will be used for and who they will share it with.

If you aren't happy with what your landlord is asking for or how they intend to use the information, tell them. Remind them they have responsibilities under the Privacy Act. You can complain to Tenancy Services' Compliance team or the Privacy Commission. You can get advice from both before deciding who to complain to.

Contact Compliance team(external link)  — Tenancy Services

Making a complaint(external link) — Privacy Commission

The costs of renting

Be realistic about how much rent you can pay. Work out a budget with the average costs of your expenses to see how much you can afford. Expenses could include:

  • food, eg groceries, takeaways and dining out
  • bills, eg internet, power, gas, water
  • other regular payments, eg hire purchase, car loan, personal loan, Afterpay
  • spending money, eg clothes, haircuts, movies
  • travel, eg public transport, petrol, parking.

Cheaper rent could mean higher travel costs. Take this into account when looking at locations.

For more budgeting help, see Sorted's budgeting tools.

Budgeting tool(external link)  — Sorted

Limits to rent

Landlords cannot charge significantly more than market rent. Market rent is based on the rent of similar properties in similar areas and gives an estimate of what you might expect to pay. Find out a market rent estimate in your area at Tenancy Services.

Market rent(external link) — Tenancy Services

If you think you are being charged significantly higher than market rent, you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to ask for the rent to be reduced.

Making an application(external link) — Tenancy Services

It is illegal for a landlord or property manager to charge a letting fee. If you paid a letting fee after 12 December 2018 you can make a complaint to the Tenancy Tribunal.

Making an application(external link)  — Tenancy Services

Start-up costs

Landlords can charge you:

  • bond — up to four weeks rent
  • rent in advance — up to two weeks. If you pay rent in advance, your next rent payment comes out after the rent in advance has been used. 

Other start-up costs might include:

  • moving costs
  • utility connection fees, eg gas, power, internet
  • buying or renting appliances, eg buying a fridge if the rental doesn't include one
  • insurance, eg contents insurance to cover your belongings, personal liability insurance to protect you if you or another tenant damage the house.

For more information on utilities, see our page on Electricity and gas services.

Electricity and gas services

What landlords must provide

There are a number of rules setting out what landlords must provide, including:

  • Locks and security, ie the property must be reasonably secure.
  • Insulation, heating, ventilation, and moisture ingress and drainage to meet the requirements of the healthy homes standards.
  • Smoke alarms, eg within 3 metres of each bedroom door, or in every room where a person sleeps.

Healthy homes standards(external link) — Tenancy Services

Landlords do not have to provide appliances like a fridge or washing machine, unless this is in your tenancy agreement.

For more information on what landlords must provide, see:

Laws and bylaws(external link)  — Tenancy Services

Tenancy agreements

A tenancy agreement is a contract that sets out the rules of the tenancy, eg the beginning and end dates in a fixed term tenancy, rules around pets. It is signed by both the landlord and tenants.

There are key things every tenancy agreement must have, eg full names and contact details of the landlord and tenants, the bond amount, a statement detailing insulation levels.

Tenancy agreements(external link) — Tenancy Services

Extra rules: landlords can add extra rules and clauses to the tenancy agreement but they need to be in line with the Residential Tenancies Act. A rule that does not follow the Act is an unenforceable clause. Landlords/property managers cannot make you follow these rules.

It's often hard to decide if a clause is unenforceable. To find out, visit the Tenancy Services website.

Unenforceable clauses(external link) — Tenancy Services

Find out what you can do to resolve problems with your landlord or property manager.

Solving issues with your landlord or property manager

Example — Unenforceable clause: Professionally cleaned carpets

Hohepa is moving out of his flat. He spends two days cleaning the flat from top to bottom. After he moves out the landlord tells Hohepa there's a clause in his tenancy agreement that he has to have the carpets professionally cleaned, or he won't get his bond back. Hohepa didn't notice this in the tenancy agreement originally. He emails the landlord and explains to them that hiring carpet cleaners is not a requirement in the Act. Instead he needs to leave the house in a tidy and clean condition. He tells them this is an unenforceable clause and he doesn't have to do it. The landlord wasn't aware of this, and agrees to sign the bond form.

Lodging bond and bond refunds

When you pay a bond at the start of a tenancy, the landlord has 23 working days to lodge it with Tenancy Services. The bond can be up to four weeks rent.

Take steps at each stage of your tenancy to help you get your bond back.

Before a tenancy:

  • Inspect the property before you move in — take photos of any damage and wear and tear. You can use these photos to prove you didn't cause any issues with the property when you move out.
  • Store the bond letter — you should receive a letter from Tenancy Services within six weeks of your bond being lodged. Keep it safe as it has information you will need at the end of the tenancy. If you don't receive this letter, contact your landlord/property manager to make sure the bond has been lodged.

During a tenancy:

  • Keep the information on the tenancy agreement up-to-date — Tenancy Services will only refund a bond to someone on the original bond form. If a new tenant pays the previous tenant the bond and doesn't let Tenancy Services know, they might find it difficult to get their bond back at the end of the tenancy. The Tenancy Services website has a form you can fill in to change a tenant on the bond record.
  • Report any repairs quickly — if you wait to tell the landlord/property manager, the problem could get worse. You might be responsible for further damage.

Changing a name on a bond record(external link) — Tenancy Services

At the end of the tenancy:

  • Inspect the property with the landlord — make sure you agree on the amount written on the bond refund form and understand where any reductions have come from.

Never sign a blank bond refund form. Your landlord/property manager could write any amount in after you sign it. 

Example – New tenant not on bond form

Aroha's friend Patrick is moving out of the flat and going overseas. Aroha is taking over his room. Patrick needs his bond back quickly, so Aroha pays him, but doesn't fill out any paperwork. At the end of the year, Aroha and the other tenants try to get their bond back, but Aroha's name isn't on the bond form. They can't get their bond back unless Patrick signs the bond refund form, because it's his name and signature still on the bond form.

More help

Get support at any point from:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.

Find a CAB near you(external link)  — Citizens Advice Bureau

  • Community Law Centre: Free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.

Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centre