Renting Guide

What is a flatmate agreement?

The legal difference between a tenant and a flatmate.

You’ll learn: 

  • The pros of drawing up a flatmate agreement 
  • The difference between a flatmate and a tenant 
  • What to put in a flatmate agreement

If you’re sharing a flat with people you don’t know well, sometimes it can be difficult to establish early on how things will work. In an ideal world, everyone falls into an easy rhythm where housework gets done, rent is paid on time and no one raids anyone else’s food shelf, but this isn’t always the reality. 

We’ve probably all heard stories of nightmare flatties who don’t pull their weight and don’t contribute towards bills or do so with bad grace. One way to prevent this kind of toxic situation is to draw up a flatmate, or flat-sharing, agreement. These documents clarify the boundaries between flatmates and make it clear what’s expected from everyone, for instance, what percentage they’ll pay towards the bills. 

Before you start down this road, you’ll first need to understand the difference between a flatmate and a tenant, and then what to include in your agreement.

Tenancy agreements vs. flatmate agreements in NZ

A tenancy agreement is signed between the people renting the property, and the owner (landlord). If everyone who’s renting the home with you has signed the tenancy agreement, then they have legal rights and protections under the Residential Tenancies Act (1986) and are classed as ‘tenants’. 

In the situation where only one person in the property is the leaseholder (meaning they alone signed the tenancy agreement) everyone else living there permanently is classed as a flatmate. As they’ve got no legal relationship with the landlord, these people aren’t covered under the Residential Tenancies Act (1986). 

In NZ, a flatmate agreement would be used in this second instance in order to protect both the tenant and the flatmate(s). For example, the tenant would want the flatmate agreement to ensure that the flatmates would pay the rent and bills on time while the flatmates would want to know the tenant can’t kick them out without notice.

There are important differences between flatmates and tenants in the eyes of the law.

What to include in a flatmate agreement

Most importantly, it’s vital that your flatmate agreement, which can be drawn up at any time, is in writing, and that everyone involved signs the document. 

A great resource: The Tenancy Services website has a straightforward flatmate agreement template that anyone can print out and use. 

While hopefully you’ll never need to use it against a difficult tenant or flatmate, it’ll be much harder to insist on if your agreement is only verbal. If either party breaches the rules of the flatmate agreement, it can be brought to the Disputes Tribunal. 

Popular items in a flatmate agreement 

  • How much rent everyone pays per week, and the method of payment 
  • If not included in rent, what percentage of bills do flatmates cover 
  • How much the bond costs, and rules about returning it once flatmates move out 
  • Important flat rules – like whether pets allowed at the property 
  • How much notice flatmates have to give before moving out, and how much notice a tenant has to give if they want a flatmate to move out 
  • Rules around visitors coming to the property 

Feel free to add extra rules of your own if you want it to cover more ground.