Western Bay home rental wars

By Teuila Fuatai

Nearly 8000 warring landlords and tenants have battled it out at the Tenancy Tribunal in the Western Bay in the past five years.

Landlords have also told the Bay of Plenty Times of horror stories, including rentals covered in dog excrement, missing light fixtures and curtains, holes in walls, and piles of furniture and rubbish left behind.

Figures obtained from the Government's Building and Housing group document show nearly 8000 Tenancy Tribunal applications made in the Western Bay in the five years to September 2012.

Most applications, which cost $20 to make, related to unpaid rent, though problems with property damage, abandonment, termination breaches and even assault were also listed.

Others involved bond disputes, reduction of fixed-term tenancies, compensation requests, "squatter or unauthorised occupation" and even "quiet enjoyment" where landlords failed to provide suitable notice to tenants before entering a rental property.

Local community law organisations say inconsiderate neighbours and bond disputes are the most common problems for Western Bay renters.

Citizens Advice Bureau manager Kim Saunders said many people were unaware of proper procedures around lodging a bond. "People find [the bond] was never lodged with the right people and the landlord is actually hanging on to it for some reason."

Baywide Community Law Service case worker Hemi Leef said tenants also sought frequent advice about dealing with troublesome neighbours.

The New Zealand Property Investors Federation said launching a tribunal application was a last resort for most landlords.

But if a large amount of money was owed, or significant damage had occurred to a property, landlords were often left with no choice, president Andrew King said.

In a recent example, a landlord couple had a dwelling behind their house trashed by renters, he said.

"They were on quite a low income and decided to rent that out to help supplement their income." The two tenants fell behind in their rent and then "smashed it all up".

The landlord couple lost the rental income and there was $3000 in damage. Mr King said only one of the tenants, who was a beneficiary, could be located after the incident.

After the case went to the tribunal, the tenant was ordered to contribute $20 a week via payments through Work and Income.

"It was going to take three years to pay off the damage, not even the rent arrears."

Most of last year's Western Bay Tenancy Tribunal applications (643) resulted in hearings and orders.

Hearings were held at a courthouse, presided over by an adjudicator and parties normally represented themselves.

About a third of applications (409) went to "mediation". Resolutions from mediation sessions were legally binding.

Compensation of up to $50,000, or work totalling this amount, can be ordered by the tribunal in both mediations and hearings. The remaining applications (178) were withdrawn.

Nationally, more than 40,000 applications are made to the Tenancy Tribunal each year.

While application numbers dropped substantially in the past five years, there were still more than 43,000 tenants and landlords who took disputes to the tribunal last year.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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