A landlord who contacted a tenant's boss worried he wouldn't be able to afford rent ahead of March's lockdown and accusing him of backyard butchery has been ordered to pay compensation.
Lisa Gardyne must pay Jaco and Melanie Boshoff $620.44 after a tenancy tribunal hearing found she breached the couple's quiet enjoyment and unlawfully entered the Hikurangi property they rented.
In a just-released decision the Whangarei tribunal heard Gardyne, a trustee of the Hunter Cooper Trust which owns the Valley Rd property, contacted Jaco Boshoff's employer to discuss concerns around his possible reduction in wages sparked by the level 4 lockdown after a conversation he had had with her then partner. She also alleged he was carrying out "homekills" at the property.
The Boshoffs claimed the landlord had discussed with others, including a potential property manager, about issues relating to the tenancy in a defamatory manner.
While Gardyne did not dispute that she "shared information" with Jaco Boshoff's employer she told the tribunal she was "legitimately concerned" about his ability to pay the rent after being told about an impromptu conversation between the tenant and her partner at the time.
During that conversation Boshoff complained about his reduced wages.
Gardyne also said she saw her tenant butchering an animal at the property and viewed other information such as Facebook posts that indicated he was carrying out homekills.
Tribunal adjudicator N Blake told the hearing Gardyne's approach to the employer was inappropriate interference with the tenant's right to peace, comfort and privacy.
"The question for me to determine is not whether Ms Gardyne's concerns were genuine. The question is whether Ms Gardyne contacting Mr Boshoff's employer and speaking with him about these issues amounted to an inappropriate interference with the tenants' right to peace.
"My finding is that it was.
"Ms Gardyne could take lawful and legitimate steps if the tenants fell into rent arrears or if they breached the terms of the tenancy agreement or the Residential Tenancies Act. It was not necessary, and it was absolutely inappropriate, for her to contact Mr Boshoff's employer about tenancy related issues."
The Boshoffs were awarded $500 in compensation for this breach.
However, the adjudicator did not consider it amounted to harassment giving Gardyne the benefit of the doubt, and accepting her explanation that she did not take the actions to deliberately cause problems and stress for the couple.
While it was likely Gardyne had spoken with other people about the tenancy concerns, Blake found there wasn't enough evidence presented, apart from the conversation with Boshoff's employer, that amounted to additional breaches.
The adjudicator also found Gardyne had entered the property unlawfully in June but took into account mitigating factors including she understood the tenants had been contacted by the property manager to have an electrician come around to fix a faulty kitchen extractor fan.
"Unfortunately, Ms Gardyne aggravated the unlawful entry by taking a photograph for reasons completely unrelated to the purpose for which she entered the property," said Blake.
Gardyne faced an additional $100 penalty for unlawful entry.
An attempt by the landlord to move back into the property, which is in a fixed term agreement until March 2022, was quashed after the adjudicator said her circumstances had not changed since the agreement was struck and because of this there were no grounds to do so under the law.