How to make a deal with the devil…And win.
I used to have a washing machine. It was pretty great, but I didn’t realise that at the time. Like so many of us I didn’t realise just how good I had it. We first met on the ground floor of an unassuming townhouse in Grey Lynn. It waited patiently on the ground floor, always waiting to be fed the cheapest laundry power, and happy to work hard into the night. I took it for granted, and after several months of abuse it finally decided enough was enough. I heard it chime one last time. It was not the shockingly long and complex melody I was used to hearing but 3 sad short beeps. It was at this moment I was gripped by a terrifying realisation: my landlord was actually going to have to do something for once.
This sudden death kicked off three months of high stakes negotiations between myself and the good—and legally distinct—people of Shmey Shmite (use your imagination.) I wanted my washing machine back but they had other ideas. They battered me with unbeatable arguments such as, “I actually don’t know how that washing machine got there” and “look the owner is just not going to budge on this, alright?” It was only through hours of scholarly study, while avoiding my actual studies, that I was able to discover something I was shocked they’d missed. It turns out that when a landlord advertises a flat as including a washing machine and they go so far as to put it in your contact…they might actually owe you a washing machine.
In the end I did what any self respecting law student would do…I threatened legal action. Like any reasonable person in the face of an overconfident twenty-something year-old, the landlord immediately folded and I had a shiny new washing machine the next day.
SO HOW CAN YOU ACHIEVE THESE GREAT RESULTS?
It’s simple! Just follow my 6 step guide and you’ll be the slammed car door to your landlords penile head in no time (ouch!)
Before we begin the fun it’s disclaimer time! Nothing in this 6 step guide is legal advice, if you want answers to a legal question ask a lawyer. I guess while I’m also here…To all you baby lawyers in residential halls: the residential tenancies act does not apply to halls! So if you try any of this on your RA it will be very embarrassing for you.
Step 1: Do your research!
A bad landlord is much like an angry cat, they puff themselves up and hiss about, but at the end of the day they’re more scared of you than you are of them. It is crucial you build yourself up as a savvy renter who knows the score. Actually knowing your rights is a crucial part of the process. Start with the tenancy services website and go from there. In a pinch don’t be afraid to read the actual residential tenancies act. You will find it a lot easier to read than you’d expect! Once you’ve nailed down what the legalese for your problem is it can quite easily be googled.
Step 2: Evaluate the situation
You’re probably going to be dealing with your landlord for at least six months. If this is your first interaction you need to set an example. Don’t be a kiss-arse but also don’t be a dickhead. This may be a hard balance to strike for the law students among us, but it can be done! Remember, your landlord is running a business, and any half decent one should act like it. Open the email with a warm greeting, explain what you want, and make sure to sign off with a polite closing. If you’re lucky enough your journey may end here. For those of us who receive the dreaded “nah” email it’s on to step 3.
Step 3: DON’T PANIC
It’s highly likely your landlord will attempt to bury you under a pile of confusing legalese. Don’t worry because you’re about to do the exact same thing back. That being said, once you go down this road, there is no coming back. You need to make sure you’re completely convinced of your argument. Carefully study your landlord’s objections and take a day or two to do more research. If you’re still convinced they’re fucking you over. It’s time for the fun part
Step 4: Direct your frustration and anger into a truly vicious email
I don’t just mean any email, I mean the kind of email that makes your average property owner shit bricks. First you must remain calm, nothing says ‘I don’t know what im talking about’ than an angry panicked email. Open with a polite hello then state the relevant law being breached in a detached and cold manner. For example, in the case of my washing machine; I stated the landlord was in breach of their responsibilities, explained what I thought the breach was (not repairing the washing machine) and then stated why I considered that a breach (we signed a contract that included a washing machine, repairs of the premises are the landlords responsibilities).
Once you’ve written this up, start adding in as many scary law words as you can. Make extensive use of ‘parties’, ‘contractual agreement’, ‘lawful obligation’, and any other technical term. Be careful to use these correctly so as to not undermine yourself. Your goal is to appear informed, in-control and unphased, done well this should make any budding slumlord think twice.
Step 5: Playing chicken with a cockhead
Now the real fun begins. You and the landlord now get to play an extended game of chicken with the fate of your living situation hanging in the balance! Rest assured though that the landlord cannot evict you in retaliation for even a rather nasty email. The landlord is going to try to make this next stage as annoying as possible. The name of the game is to be as stubborn and annoying as possible, while still being polite on the surface. Your goal is to make the landlord come to the conclusion that fighting you simply isn’t worth their time (they’re trying to do the same to you). Neither of you actually want to go to court but both of you want to try and scare the other with the possibility.
There’s this one easy trick to end this phase however: issue your landlord a 14 day notice to remedy. These are a magical device that makes all but the most stubborn landlords jump to attention. Basically just repeat your previous email but add on “this is an official 14 day notice to remedy” and now if it isn’t fixed in two weeks you can go to the Tenancy Tribunal. You might find threatening legal action intimidating but crucially it’s still just a threat. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, and most bad landlords crumble at the mention of the tribunal alone.
Step 6: Going to the tenancy tribunal
If you get to this point it’s probably time to stop reading Craccum and start making some calls. The Citizens Advice Bureau and the Tenancy Tribunal can both help with most questions you might have and you can make the decision from there. It is less scary in practice than it sounds, it’s not a formal court and it’s designed to be accessible to everyone.
Step 7: Winning
Congratulations on defeating the greatest evil that plagues students outside of the dreaded 8am lecture. Celebrate your newfound talent by helping your friends finally give their terrible landlords a taste of their own medicine.