STUDENTS WILL no longer risk paying for damage to flats caused by accidents or flatmates, if a proposed amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act is passed.
Labour MP Maryan Street’s amendment to the Act, currently before select committee, proposes to make it compulsory for landlords to extend their insurance coverage to include damage to property caused by tenants. The major effect of such a change would be to remove the ‘joint and several liability’ clause in many tenancy agreements which allows innocent tenants to be held responsible for damage caused by their flatmates.
Sandra Murray, a law reform worker at the Dunedin Community Law Centre, says that the “injustice” of joint and several liability leases was highlighted by an incident several years ago in which a group of Dunedin students were found liable for thousands of dollars worth of fire damage to their flat caused by another flatmate cooking bacon.
Murray says that “while contents insurance, which includes personal liability insurance, can protect a tenant from such circumstances, most tenants do not have such insurance or may not even know that they might need such insurance. In addition, clients of the Dunedin Community Law Centre have reported increasing difficulties in gaining personal liability insurance, for example there have been cases where insurance has been refused as the insurance company has deemed there to be too many people living at the address.”