In a case with parallels to a diplomatic scandal in New Zealand, a Canadian court has found that a foreign diplomat cannot use immunity to get out of paying rent.
The Ontario Supreme Court ruled in February that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations did not apply to commercial transactions by diplomats in their host country, Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper has reported.
The ruling came after an American diplomat, Betsy Zouroudis, attempted to get out of paying $10,000 in unpaid rent and legal fees by saying that her diplomatic status exempted her from having the pay the money.
According to Canada's Globe and Mail, the judge said the diplomat had diplomatic status under the convention, but the rental dispute was not covered by it.
The ruling could give an indication of where a strikingly similar controversy in New Zealand will lead.
The deputy head of mission for the EU's delegation in NZ, Eva Tvarozkova, was told by the Tenancy Tribunal last month that she had to pay her former landlord Matthew Ryan $20,000 for unpaid rent and damaged property at a Wellington townhouse.
However, the tribunal did not consider Tvarozkova's automatic immunity as a diplomat. A hearing has been scheduled for next month to re-examine the matter.
At the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the tribunal will consider the significance of the Vienna Convention on the dispute.
In the Canadian case, the judge cited Article 31 of the convention, which said that diplomatic immunity did not apply to commercial transactions carried out by the diplomat in the host country.
MFAT has asked the EU mission in New Zealand to waive immunity for Tvarozkova, though the EU is yet to accept that request.
Approval for any waiver must come from superiors in Brussels, which legal experts say could take some time.
The landlord in the Canadian case, Rolf Baumann, said he took the diplomat to court because he had experienced a growing trend of foreign diplomats skipping out on their rent.
"What this means is that there are mechanisms for anybody that's going to enter into a contractual obligation with a diplomat … to be able to have it enforced and supported by the Canadians laws," he told The Globe and Mail.
"I don't necessarily see it as a win. I see it more as a public-awareness exercise."
Ryan, the landlord in the New Zealand case, has expressed similar concerns.
"It's pretty disappointing to hear that when you lease to a diplomat you effectively have none of the provisions that you would normally have it [it were] a normal member of the community," he said last week.
"It's concerning for any landlord who looks at renting a property to a diplomat.
"They could effectively do anything they want to your house, they could use it as a P house, they could carry on with illegal activities and you'd have no redress because they'd hide behind some sort of diplomatic immunity."