A tenant at Auckland's Chancery shopping complex has been hit with an $18,000 "special levy" to pay for the building's repairs - a move described as "inconceivable" by a specialist lawyer.
Ellen Hur, owner of L Nail & Beauty, pays $1,900 for her street level central city shop. But, she is now being asked by her landlord to pay an additional $18,733 in special levies for leak-related repairs.
She is seeking legal advice, and other tenants are worried they too could be hit with levies.
Miss Hur said paying the bill would make her business "go bankrupt".
Miss Hur, originally from Korea, said she was not told about the leaky problem at Chancery when she signed the lease.
"Now for the landlord to say that I am responsible to pay for a problem from the original construction because I signed the lease is like a trap."
The Singapore-based property owner of the shop, Denise Mollex Panjwani, said she passed on the invoice to Miss Hur because the lease agreement had stated that the tenant was responsible for "outgoings" including repairs that were not structural.
Legal experts are divided over who is responsible for the invoice.
Paul Grimshaw, a leaky building specialist, said he found it "inconceivable" that the tenant would be liable.
"These repairs are generally regarded as structural and therefore the responsibility of the landlord," Mr Grimshaw said. "Why should a tenant pay to fix structural repairs to a building he or she doesn't even own?"
Mr Grimshaw said in similar cases, landlords' efforts to charge tenants had been unsuccessful.
Mrs Panjwani said her tenants paid very little in rent which was why the lease clause included levies.
The invoices for the special levies come from the body corporate, Centurion Management Services.
Body corporate spokesman Steve Plummer said the management was "not in a position to comment at this point".
Nick Russell, a partner at Chen Palmer, said the agreement stated the tenant would be liable for repairs other than "structural".
"It goes on to make clear that minor repairs to the roof are not structural repairs, so it all depends on whether the repairs in question are structural," Mr Russell said.
"The amount the landlord is demanding makes me doubt it is really structural, you don't get a lot of structural repair work for that kind of money.
"If that is right, then the tenant is probably liable."