A man who lived in a $1.9 million Auckland house for nearly seven months without paying rent has been evicted and ordered to pay more than $13,000 to the landlord, a neighbouring marae, after his rental agreement was judged invalid.
Tenant Joyal Pene ended up at the centre of a "bitter battle" between two factions of Te Unga Waka Marae, which owns the property at 5 Clyde St in Epsom.
He was an ally of the marae's former chairwoman, Annette Hakaraia, who was ousted from the board in January 2019. Facing off against them was the marae's new board, chaired by well-known GP Dr Lance O'Sullivan.
Hakaraia had been chair for seven years but was voted out after the marae lost its charitable status after reportedly failing for several years to file returns, according to a tenancy tribunal finding.
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But in a mysterious special general meeting several months later, Hakaraia claimed to have been voted back in as chairwoman with unanimous support from members, none of whom were named.
Shortly afterward, she and a person called "Diplomat Christian" signed the tenancy agreement with Pene, supposedly on behalf of the marae, and he moved into the house.
However Te Unga Waka's board - now chaired by O'Sullivan - remained in control of the marae and of the house. They trespassed Pene, towed his three vehicles, removed his belongings and changed the locks.
Pene broke back in and continued to live there.
Both parties then took the case to the Tenancy Tribunal. Pene wanted an order preventing his "unlawful" eviction by an "illegal landlord", while Te Unga Waka wanted the tenancy agreement declared invalid and for Pene to be forced to pay costs, including the unpaid rent.
In a recently released decision tribunal adjudicator R Kee found Hakaraia had not actually been reinstated as chair, so the tenancy agreement was invalid.
The adjudicator found Pene was a "fierce ally" of the elderly Hakaraia and had moved into the house to help her out.
It was "improbable" that mere months later Hakaraia would have gained "landslide support" and that so many members would have suddenly changed their minds to vote her back in unanimously.
Hakaraia and her supporters have still not provided evidence that they are the rightful officers of Te Unga Waka, the adjudicator said - finding it most likely that Hakaraia was thus not in charge and had no legal right to sign the tenancy agreement with Pene.
Pene has claimed he did not know that Hakaraia's authority was in doubt but the adjudicator considered that unlikely - pointing out he had never paid rent and had been trespassed from the property.
"Mr Pene said he was "helping an old lady"; I consider that was his true motivation. Mr Pene was not just any "tenant". He was in truth, Ms Hakaraia's fierce ally."
The tribunal ordered Pene to vacate the property and pay Te Unga Waka $11,165 to the marae in unpaid rent, along with $2541 which it had cost the marae to tow his three vehicles from the premises.