Landlords struggle to claim on tenants' accidental damage

By Melissa Nightingale

The Tenancy Tribunal has ruled a tenant must pay after keeping her five cats shut in a room, where they damaged the curtains and carpets. Photo / File
The Tenancy Tribunal has ruled a tenant must pay after keeping her five cats shut in a room, where they damaged the curtains and carpets. Photo / File

A tenant being made to pay for damage her five cats did to a Wellington rental property is a good sign for landlords who have been struggling to claim costs in the wake of a Court of Appeal decision earlier this year.

The tenant has had to pay nearly $1000 to the landlord, some of which is for damage to carpets and curtains after she left her cats shut in a room. The decision is in contrast to what many landlords have been facing around the country.

People drunkenly falling through skylights and dogs wrecking carpets after being locked inside are incidents landlords are having to pay to fix in the fallout from the Holler and Rouse v Osaki case.

The Court of Appeal ruled a tenant did not have to pay for damage after leaving a pot of oil on the stove and causing a fire, and this has left it nearly impossible for landlords to claim costs for accidental damage, NZ Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said.

The whole thing is just wrong on so many levels. We're really hoping that the government will be looking to address this really soon.
Andrew King

But a coordinator for the Tenants Protection Association (Auckland) said it was "just another instance of the Property Investors Association going on about the same old, same old", and said it was difficult for tenants to afford insurance when rents were so high.

In the Osaki case, the Court ruled the tenant did not have to pay for the damage as it was unintentional, and the landlord's insurance covered the cost.

King said "every single case" of accidental damage that had come to his attention since the decision has ended with the tenant not being made to pay.

"It's ludicrous that tenants are no longer responsible for any damage that they cause to rental properties," he said.

"It just goes beyond, I think, anyone's thought of what's reasonable."

There is an appeal underway after a recent Tribunal ruling over a Foxton rental property, where the tenants broke the rental agreement by having dogs on the property and left the dogs locked inside, causing them to soil the carpet to an uncleanable state.

Andrew King says "every single case" of accidental damage he knows of since the Osaki decision has lead to landlords forking out their money. Photo/file
Andrew King says "every single case" of accidental damage he knows of since the Osaki decision has lead to landlords forking out their money. Photo/file

The Tribunal ruled the tenant did not cause the damage intentionally, so did not have to pay, as in the Osaki case.

King said the Federation was now "trying to solve the problems that the Osaki case has caused".

Another case that came to his attention was when a tenant had their relative to visit.

The relative got drunk and "thought it would be fun to go up on the roof". They ended up falling through a skylight, causing a large amount of damage.

"The landlord had to pay for that," King said.

He said tenants could now cause damage, then give landlords a 14 day notice to fix it, otherwise they could be taken to the Tribunal.

"The whole thing is just wrong on so many levels. We're really hoping that the government will be looking to address this really soon."

They've had it good for years and years . . . if they want to bring the rents down maybe that is an issue that could be looked at.
Angela Maynard

Consequences included insurance premiums being expected to rise, landlords having to be "more invasive" and hold more inspections, and families, people with pets, or young people finding it harder to be accepted to a rental property.

But the recent decision where the Tribunal ruled a tenant must pay for the damage her cats caused was a positive sign, King said.

He said it meant "the Tribunal is enacting the Osaki case in a reasonable way".

Angela Maynard, Tenants Protection Association (Auckland) coordinator, said she has only had one experience of a landlord being denied his claim for damage, "and it's actually a landlord who was trying to claim unnecessary expenses from the tenant".

Maynard felt the Osaki precedent "stops those kind of grievous sort of excessive claims from landlords who are just trying to [have] their house renovated at the expense of the tenant".

"What you have to look at is the huge amount of rents that people are paying for a start - how are they going to be able to insure themselves?"

Maynard said landlords, who are charging rents "way outside" what was reasonable "really have no right to complain about it".

"They've had it good for years and years . . . if they want to bring the rents down maybe that is an issue that could be looked at."

She said the case of the person falling through the skylight could have been brought up as wilful damage.

She said the NZ Property Investors Federation were "always whining" that the Residential Tenancies Act was biased towards tenants when it was not.

- NZ Herald

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