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Getting rid of a flatmate you can't stand (legally)

The Wireless logo The Wireless 5/04/2017

Sharing a living space can be like setting yourself on fire. It’s painful, but it was your decision.

Hell is other people. They don’t do their dishes, they can get too stoned and leave the oven on, stick passive-aggressive notes on the fridge and there’s always that one flatmate that drinks all of your milk.

We spoke to a few people about their flatmate nightmares and how to deal with them legally, or prevent such a thing from ever occurring to you.

WHEN YOU NEED TO PUT YOUR FLATMATE UP FOR ADOPTION

Illustration of flatmate being carried away on a couch. © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Illustration of flatmate being carried away on a couch.

Illustration: Sally Bollinger

Alistair and Matt have reached breaking point. But they’re not going to club anyone, they’re trying to get rid of their problem flatmate legally.

As you walk inside their flat, there’s a paua shell filled with cigarette butts, bits and pieces of lint and dust all over the carpet and guitars are leaning against almost every corner of the flat. There are a few pizza boxes just lying around and who knows how long they’ve really been there.

Jeff* moved into their flat in March, he seemed fine at the time. They looked through his Facebook and after he came round to see the place, they decided he could flat with them.

Everything was fine, but after a few months a problem spawned. Alistair and Matt began to smell Jeff* a lot more than usual.  

Dirty clothing, plates, and mouldy food mixed with the warmth of the day leak out from Jeff’s room to the rest of the house.

Alistair explains that he has approached Jeff about the problem but the conversation got out of hand. “I got to point where I was sick of him. He doesn’t do his dishes.”

“Bro, you don’t do your dishes either,” adds Matt.

“Well I don’t do my dishes either, but at some point I do them, but Jeff never gets to that point. I asked him to clean up. I ended up escalating it, I asked him why there was garbage on his floor ... Afterwards, I apologised for being confrontational and told him that his room is just gross,” says Alistair.

After they confronted him about not washing his sheets, Alistair claims Jeff* began to sleep on the floor. “It’s like, ‘bro sort yourself out’. But at the same time I feel bad cause he doesn’t care about himself.”

The boys gave Jeff six weeks notice, but he hasn’t left yet.

“People aren’t what they seem,” says Alistair.

What the law says: 

A tenant is covered by Residential Tenancies Act 1986, but if you’re not signed into a tenancy agreement with a landlord you’re not covered.

Alistair has the right to kick Jeff out because Alistair is the head tenant and Jeff is in a contract with Alistair, not the landlord.

Flatmates are not responsible to the landlord for the rent and the state of the property. Instead, they are responsible to the “head tenant” (in this case, Alistair) for their share of the rent. There is no law on what is reasonable notice to give someone to move out.

WHEN YOUR FELLOW TENANT IS GROWING MOULD INSTEAD OF SOMETHING NORMAL LIKE A HERB GARDEN

Mouldy muffins on a plate © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Mouldy muffins on a plate

Illustration: Sally Bollinger

Tim was in a flat with four people, including himself. They were all friends before they flatted together, but the flat broke up after six months because they couldn’t stand living with Stephanie*.

“She was messy, and just gross, shit everywhere. She never cleaned and left food to mould in her room. One time she accused another flatmate of eating her Chinese takeaway, she found it two weeks later under a pile of clothing in her own room,” says Tim.

“In the end me and another flatmate lied and said that we needed to move home.”

Flatting can ruin friendships because normally you see people when they want to be seen, Tim says.

What the law says:

Tim was signed into a tenancy agreement along with Stephanie. If everyone in your flat has signed a tenancy agreement with the landlord, you all have tenancy rights and obligations. Which means even if Sarah punches a hole in the wall you’re all liable for the damage.

In this case,  because they all entered an agreement with the landlord, they all have the same rights and no one is allowed to tell someone else to leave.

In the end, Tim and another flatmate lied and said they needed to move home so they could get out of the flat. But realistically it would be hard to get rid of a friend from your flat and continue to be friends after that.

WHEN YOUR FLATMATE IS DOING ILLEGAL THINGS (AND IT'S  MORE THAN JUST JAYWALKING)

Criminal on CCTV © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Criminal on CCTV

Illustration: Sally Bollinger

Kenji* and his flatmates had a friend-of-a-friend rent their sunroom.

“He would always give us stuff for free and tell us he got sent them. It all started when one of our friends worked in security and found a thread about him stealing bikes, there were photos of his face on CCTV. He disappeared one day with all his shit.”

They found out he was wanted by lots of people and police.

“He was dodgy as, but he seemed all good on the surface. I now feel pretty weird about flatting with randoms after that experience.”

What the law says (and some advice):

If you don’t feel safe with a fellow tenant it would probably be a good idea to call the police, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

In a situation where you want to get rid of a tenant you could arrange for the tenancy to be ended and get a new one started which excludes the problem tenant. If you have a periodic tenancy you can end the tenancy by giving notice to your landlord.

HOW TO AVOID THESE PROBLEMS

Property Management consultant Scotney Williams from The Tenancy Practice Service Ltd says 90 percent of the time people come to him with issues about the people they flat with they don’t have any sort of contract and that is troubling.

“The traditional problem with flatting and flatmates is that they don’t necessarily know each other well. Because things are fine at the beginning, they don’t have any kind of agreement between themselves if it all turns to clay.”

Williams explains that flatting with people is a bit like marriage, no one plans to get a divorce but it’s realistic - it could happen.

Agree on basic codes of conduct from the flat account, to the amount of rent, and how much time you’re going to give someone if they are asked to leave the flat. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be written down.

Know the person you are going to flat with by using referees, an intermediate person should be used ( ie don’t just stalk their Facebook and Instagram.)

If you are the head tenant and ask one of your flatmates to leave, Williams recommends a week's notice is enough but there are no laws around this.

Have a contract with the head tenant if you’re not signed into a tenancy agreement with a landlord. You can use this contract at the disputes tribunal if things go wrong.

If you are signed into a tenancy agreement with the landlord and your fellow tenants you are covered by the Tenancy Tribunal. Still, consider talking to your fellow abode dwellers about each individual's expectations.  

Really useful websites:

Tenancy Services

Citizens Advice Bureau

Sorted

Disputes Tribunal

*Name changed to protect identity, prevent awkward conversations and prevent public humiliation. 

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