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Tenancy Tribunal:  Five Slow Facts with Michael BoturTenancy Tribunal:  Five Slow Facts with Michael Botur

Don’t you hate those Buzzfeed-type articles in which they hurl ‘five fast facts’ at you about any trending topic?

I hate stupid trends, so to counteract the Five Fast Fenomenon, I’m going to give you five SLOW facts about the Tenancy Tribunal.

1. Most households are owner-occupied, but roughly 500,000 households in NZ
are rental households. The number of households living in rental accommodation
increased around 25% from 2006 to 2016. Out of those 500,000-ish households,
20,000 cases each year are heard in the Tenancy Tribunal (from 45,000
applications for hearings)

2. You might be surprised to learn, amongst the Tribunal’s tools for enforcing
recovering of bond and rent, that it can order deduction of money from wages

3. The Tribunal can order that maintenance work is undertaken, and if a landlord is
being difficult about completing the work, it can order renters pay MBIE the rent
until there is enough to do the work

4. If you are a landlord or tenant worried that the Tenancy Tribunal will publish
details of your dispute online, hurting your reputation, mediation is a good way to
go about things. Mediation – which can be done over the phone, meaning no
tense courtroom confrontation – is confidential and not published online (that is,
if an agreement is reached at mediation)

5. Amounts up to $50,000 can be disputed in the Tribunal

Now, making headlines recently: Dunedin landlord Vic Inglis lost in the Tenancy Tribunal – AT FIRST – after he had a breakdown with tenant Natalie Parry. He was ordered to pay her all her rent back. Bond, too.

That order was finally reversed on appeal.

Here’s what happened:
Landlord Vic rented to the tenant a room in the family home which he described in the Tribunal as “precious and personal.” The rent, he said, was reduced “to get the “right tenants” who would leave only a “very light footprint” on the premises.

After tenant Natalie sublet the downstairs of the property, without consent, difficulties arose. It went to the Tribunal because – and I’m just casting my opinion here – the tenant didn’t want to be kicked out over the forbidden subletting. To bolster her side of the dispute, the tenant went and got information showing unpermitted alterations had been made to the home, and the Tenancy Tribunal ruled that such alterations invalidated the entirety of the rental situation – meaning the tenant should never have had to pay rent. It was therefore ordered all $10,000 of rent, plus bond, be returned to the tenant.

The landlord’s mistake was when he bought the house, for renting out, he’d ignored or failed to see the LIM report indicating what alterations he could and couldn’t make. He said the first time he saw plans for the home was when they were presented to him by the tenant when she took him to the Tenancy Tribunal seeking a refund of all rent.
Even when the landlord went and got a certificate of acceptance for the work which deviated from the original plans, it didn’t convince the tribunal to side with the landlord.

The landlord was devastated by the ruling, under the Residential Tenancies Act, would see him losing out on rent of $10,960.44, as well as over $700 of bond he was ordered to repay.

He told the Otago Daily Times he could not believe his tenant would behave the way she had, especially considering the agreement to rent it at a lower rate.
The landlord said he had to sell the property to repay all the bond.

HOWEVER there was then a District Court appeal, during which the curious question emerged of how and why the tenant found out from the council that the downstairs area was unconsented. The tenant had close family members working for the council, after all. What could have inspired the tenant to use the My-Landlord-Ignored-the-LIM angle? 

Many writers have suggested, because of the initial decision against Landlord Vic, that landlords are in fear of tenants who will take them to the Tenancy Tribunal for flippant reasons and win unfair decisions. However, the majority of Tribunal hearings are instigated by landlords – 90 percent, in fact. To me, that doesn’t sound like landlords are being victimised. That’s just me assuming that whoever instigates the hearing is likely to have better-prepared evidence and more financial resources to pursue a decision in their favour. What’s your opinion?

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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