Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Christchurch earthquake: Landlords play hardball with fleeing tenants

A home in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner is covered in tarpaulins to protect it from the rain. Photo / Sarah Ivey
A home in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner is covered in tarpaulins to protect it from the rain. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Some Christchurch renters fleeing the shaken city are getting little charity from landlords, who are trying to keep them locked into leases and contracts.

Property investor Nigel Lundy said some renters "just want to pack up their luggage and leave the property owner with the mess. They just want to walk out.

"[Some] are treating the earthquake like an excuse to avoid their responsibilities."

Mr Lundy manages 160 tenancies through his firm Metro Advances and yesterday initially told the Herald he would not allow any renters to break their contracts if their home was still habitable.

Metro Advances is charging those who want to get out of their lease a "break fee" of six weeks' rent.

One of the tenants, Victoria Avilova, struggled to get out of her contract with Mr Lundy after refusing to pay the fee and still lost her bond once he let her off.

Ms Avilova had been living at her Burlington St dwelling for only four days before the earthquake and had signed a lease until October.

Metro Advances initially refused to let her out of her lease but yesterday, after calls from the Herald, it agreed to wipe the contract.

Mr Lundy defended his attempts to keep tenants in contracts and said early leavers left landlords paying mortgages on vacant properties that generated no income.

"We're people as well, we've got lives, we've got families, we're not trying to make someone else suffer financially."

Mr Lundy said Ms Avilova's building was perfectly habitable, so the lease should have stood.

"It's a personal choice to leave a building that you can live in and that's got nothing wrong with it. Why should that be at the property owner's expense?" he asked.

Another disgruntled tenant is American exchange student Rosanna Cochran, who was part of a group staying for around two months in Christchurch Central Apartments.

The group prepaid their tenancy and had been at their accommodation for only four days when the earthquake struck.

Miss Cochran was evacuated to Wellington, and said she was denied a refund when she got in touch with the property's owner.

John Walley, the owner, confirmed that no refund would be given.

"Under the terms of hire there is no refund," Mr Walley said.

"There's only one student in particular asking for it.

"The others are grateful that we evacuated them out of Christchurch on Wednesday morning at the expense of our own families who needed help," he said.

Mr Walley said the woman was extremely demanding and rude and wasted time in the middle of a crisis.

"Frankly, dealing with all this in the middle of an earthquake is extremely unacceptable," Mr Walley said.

The head of the Real Estate Institute's Canterbury branch, David Rankin, said landlords were not breaking the law if they kept within the terms of their contracts.

However, Mr Rankin said landlords should not be worried about filling empty accommodation as there would be a high demand for undamaged properties.

"For everyone who wants to abandon a tenancy, if the building's still habitable there'll be good tenancy demand and there shouldn't be any problems re-letting very quickly," he said.

- NZ Herald

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