Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Cornwall Trust accused of misleading tenant

Yong Xin Chen arrives at the Auckland High Court to give evidence in her battle with the Cornwall Park Trust Board.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
Yong Xin Chen arrives at the Auckland High Court to give evidence in her battle with the Cornwall Park Trust Board. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Cornwall Park Trust Board's leases are hard to understand and the business misled a woman it is suing for more than $300,000 over a $2 million-plus bungalow, the court has heard.

Jenny Wickes, lawyer for Chinese migrant Yong Xin Chen, said the leases were hard to read.

In one letter, the board's solicitors stated: "If you continue to remain in possession until you are required by our client to vacate, you must pay the ground rent of $73,750 per annum as provided for in the lease."

But Wickes said Chen believed the solicitors had made a mistake in that letter because of other documents she got charging her at the old rate of only $8300/year.

In none of the dealings which Chen or her daughter Shanshan Lin had with the board was there any intimation that she was not paying the correct rent level or that back rent was accumulating, Wickes told Justice Rebecca Ellis in the High Court at Auckland.

Eventually, the board sought around $200,000 back-dated ground rent, Wickes said.

After she left the house at 21 Maungakiekie Ave, the board tried unsuccessfully to auction the property.

"Even after the auction in September 2011 for the October 2011 statement and invoice from the plaintiff was for rent of $4150 for the six months to march 2012," Wickes said Chen's position is that she received and paid invoices "believing that was what she had to pay...the position is that belief was a reasonable one," Wickes said.

It was not until a letter in late 2011 that she realised the board intended to claim back rent, using the reviewed rent level from March 2009.

"She protested via her solicitors and moved out the following month," Wickes said.

Chen said that if she had appreciated the board would seek to recover additional rent to what she had paid, she would have acted differently.

The house at 21 Maungakiekie Avenue, at the centre of the Cornwall Park Trust dispute with Young Xin Chen. Photo / Greg Bowker
The house at 21 Maungakiekie Avenue, at the centre of the Cornwall Park Trust dispute with Young Xin Chen. Photo / Greg Bowker

"She and her family had other accommodation options," Wickes said.

Under the Fair Trading Act, Wickes said the board had misled or deceived Chen via invoices, statements and correspondence that the rent was $4150 to be paid twice a year, when actually $73,750 annually was being sought.

"This was conduct clearly capable of misleading her and she was misled," Wickes said.

"When considering whether it was reasonable for her to have been misled, she says she was entitled to understand the invoices and statements to mean exactly what they said," Wickes said.

Matt Casey QC for the board is cross-examining Chen this morning. Both Chen and the board have Mandarin-speaking interpreters in court.

Questions were also raised yesterday about Chen wearing sunglasses. She was told the judge would like to see her eyes.

The case is continuing.

- NZ Herald

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