Key Points:

A fire at a Dunedin student flat in June 1999 was, in part, the spark that ignited the latest push for tenancy law reform.

In 2002, Dunedin District Court Judge Gary MacAskill called for the Residential Tenancies Act to be amended when he ruled on the case involving the student flat fire.

Glenn Shields, a tenant at 472 Leith St, was frying bacon for lunch when he decided to go next door to visit a friend. But he was away for a little longer than he had expected. The pan caught fire and much of the house burned down.

He accepted he had been negligent, but said that with a student loan and no assets or regular income, he would not be able to do much about it.

The landlord's insurer, State Insurance, paid out.

State later sued all six tenants in the flat for costs - collectively they had a liability of almost $150,000. In court the other five denied liability because they were nowhere near the house at the time of the fire.

Judge MacAskill accepted that Shield's flatmates were not involved, but he found them liable anyway. Their names were on the tenancy agreement. The judge said that under the act, any of the common tenants renting a property could be liable for the cost of repairs, even if they did not cause the damage or were not there to prevent it.

He added that he thought this was unjust and urged the law be reformed.

The Consumers Institute said State Insurance later dropped lawsuits against the tenants and another group of uninsured tenants in a similar situation. But it also told tenants to take out personal liability insurance in case they found themselves in the same position.