A vehicle rental company has been ordered to repay a customer $280 after a disputes tribunal ruled the business bore the burden of showing a disputed dent was not pre-existing.
The case is a "mark in the sand" for others in a similar situation, a consumer advocate says.
Tamra Ewing, 36, and her partner took Metropolitan Rentals to the tribunal after $280 was taken from their bond after they hired a truck to move from Waterview to Tuakau.
Ms Ewing said that when her father picked up the 20-tonne truck on January 17 he was given the keys and told it was parked further down the street.
But when the vehicle was returned the next day the company insisted a dent at the front of the truck was fresh and withheld $280 of a $400 bond.
Ms Ewing said the company's unwillingness to discuss the matter spurred them to take the matter to the Pukekohe disputes tribunal - which ruled in their favour a week ago.
She has spoken out to let people know their rights in such a situation.
"I think the pivotal thing here, which the disputes tribunal pointed out, was that the onus was on Metropolitan Rentals to prove that we had caused the damage.
"It's important that people are aware that the responsibility is actually on the company to prove that you caused the damage, rather than trying to prove your innocence."
Metropolitan Rentals general manager Andrew Langridge refused to comment yesterday, other than to say the matter had been resolved through the tribunal.
According to the judgment of referee Jack Tam, Mr Langridge conceded at the hearing that no pre-hire inspection was done on the truck.
No photograph of the damage was provided nor was an invoice or documentation to show how the charge of $280 was arrived at.
"Having regard to the lack of evidence in this claim and that the respondent carries that burden of proving the reasonableness of their charge, it is my finding that the applicant is not liable for the repair costs," Mr Tam wrote.
Ms Ewing said she was amazed an established company such as Metropolitan Rentals would not carry out joint pre-inspections on vehicles.
She said Metropolitan Rentals had provided a damage report for the truck, but it was undated and made no mention of damage to the truck's door.
Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said the disputes tribunal decision was important for other people who may find themselves in a similar dispute.
"Even though [tribunal decisions] don't set precedent, they are a mark in the sand for people to know what side their rights are going to fall on."
Ms Chetwin was surprised Metropolitan Rentals had not carried out a joint pre-inspection of the truck.
"I would have thought for their own benefit ... because as it's turned out ... [Metropolitan Rentals] don't have a leg to stand on because it has not got any evidence to show when dents occurred."
* Couple accused of denting rental vehicle.
* Rental company takes $280 from bond.
* Disputes tribunal rules company must prove dent not pre-existing.
* Money refunded after no pre-hire inspection completed.
* Case a "mark in the sand" for other renters.