A landlord who left dozens of ducks, chickens and turkeys for new tenants to feed and care for must pay them back $1666 after they were forced to feed the birds out of their own pocket.
Leonie and Clinton Duncan spent more than $400 on feed and over 100 hours caring for the poultry left behind by their new landlord, cattle breeding company Cousens Corner Lowline Stud.
When the pair moved into the 4ha property in Mangaroa, Upper Hutt last June, the property manager promised to remove their landlord's animals. But while horses, cows and dogs were duly removed, 50-70 ducks, chooks and turkeys were left behind, according to a Tenancy Tribunal finding.
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On June 10 last year the Duncans texted a representative for the landlord saying: "Turkeys, ducks and chooks are still here as well, what does the owner want to do with them. I'm happy for the ducks and chickens to stay but not the turkeys as I'm scared of them and he provides their food as there is a lot of them to feed."
After getting no response, the tenants rehomed the turkeys in July. David Cousens, who represented the landlord, did not respond to requests for duck and chook food, so the tenants bought the feed themselves.
In January the tenants served a 14-day notice requiring the landlord remove the birds and reimburse the cost of feeding and caring for them. In February - 34 weeks into the tenancy - the landlord arranged for a farm worker to take care of the birds.
The tenants took the landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal, claiming the premises was not left in an agreed state and they were left having to feed and care for the birds. They wanted the landlord to remove the birds and to reimburse the costs of caring for them.
By the March 4 hearing the birds were still at the farm, kept in a silage cage and being fed by the farm worker. Moves were being made to rehome them.
Tribunal adjudicator Kaye Stirling found that while the Duncans had originally offered to feed the chooks and ducks, this was on the proviso that the landlord provide feed, which he never agreed to.
The Duncans said they had rejected the landlord's offer to sell them the ducks before the tenancy started - showing there was no agreement to leave the birds at the property. A property manager had also asked them to feed and care for the birds and bill him for the costs, they said, but there was nothing in writing.
The tribunal heard Cousens argued he had never asked the tenants to feed the birds, and they shouldn't have done so because the birds could forage for themselves. But in her March 30 finding Stirling disagreed - the birds were domesticated, and the tenants could have faced animal welfare charges for neglecting to feed them.
Stirling found the landlord must remove the birds and compensate the tenants.
The tenants invoiced the landlord $476 for the feed and $3570 for their labour, based on the going commercial rate of $30/hour at 3.5 hours per week. Stirling agreed to the feed costs but rejected the commercial rate claim, instead giving the tenants $1190, or $10/hour, for "inconvenience and frustration" suffered.
The landlord was also required to pay $2340 for failures to promptly fix two hot water cylinders, a kitchen tap, laundry taps and a leaking toilet, leaving the tenants without enough hot water, washing facilities or a properly flushing toilet for months at a time.
The tenants also claimed contractors and other people authorised by the landlord often entered the land without consent or notice, leaving gates open and moving items like wood and water troughs around.
While a landlord could not generally enter the dwelling without consent or notice, this did not apply to the land, Stirling found.
However, frequent visits could quickly breach tenants' right to quiet enjoyment. The tenants had not applied for compensation under this clause of the Residential Tenancies Act, but Stirling warned the landlord they could do so in future if things didn't change.
The landlord has been given an extension of time to rehome the ducks and chickens due to the Covid-19 lockdown.