A Wellington landlord who is owed $20,000 by a diplomat says he has effectively been crushed by the might of New Zealand and the European Union's legal teams.
The Tenancy Tribunal this afternoon reversed a ruling against the EU delegation's deputy head of mission Eva Tvarozkova and ordered a re-hearing for next month.
The tribunal had ruled in March that Tvarozkova was liable for unpaid rent and property damage at a $1.5m property in Miramar where she had been a tenant.
But lawyers for the EU delegation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) successfully argued that the tribunal had failed to take into account her diplomatic immunity.
The landlord, Matthew Ryan, described the case as a farce.
"Naturally I'm disappointed I didn't get justice today," he told the Herald.
"But I guess I'm undeterred in that the right needs to prevail. I think this is in the interest of all landlords and citizens of New Zealand."
Ryan, who represented himself at the hearing, said he had not expected to come up against such a well-resourced defence.
"It felt pretty overwhelming, to be honest. We had three lawyers representing Mfat, three lawyers representing the European Union, and I had an old school friend and my partner.
"So it did feel a bit like David and Goliath from our perspective."
He remarked that their legal fees probably dwarfed the total costs owed to him in the case.
While Mfat's lawyers argued for the tribunal to consider the impact of immunity in the case, it has already asked the EU to waive it.
That was rejected by the EU delegation's lawyer Peter Cullen today.
"Absolutely not," he told the tribunal. "It is certainly not waived."
Ryan's case hinged on the argument that the Geneva Convention which gave diplomats immunity in foreign courts had an exemption for commercial transactions such as rental payments.
This was based on a recent Canadian case in which a judge ruled in favour of a landlord after a diplomat skipped on their rent.
Mfat's lawyer Phirak Appleton argued that the judge in that case had taken a broad interpretation of commercial transactions which went against legal precedent.
Cullen agreed, saying there was an international consensus that commercial activities related only to transactions which a diplomat profited from, and not to daily activities like leasing a property.
He said publicity around the case meant it had implications not only for the parties involved but for New Zealand's reputation abroad.
In response, Ryan argued that the Geneva Convention was not designed to protect tenants who did not pay their rent.
A decision to grant a re-hearing would "fly in the face" of the convention and indicated that tenancy agreements in New Zealand were "not worth the paper they're written on", he said.
Tribunal adjudicator Rex Woodhouse ruled that the tribunal's failure to consider Tvarozkova's immunity at the original hearing in March meant a miscarriage of justice had taken place.
For that reason, a re-hearing had to take place and the case would start from scratch.
"It's appalling," Ryan said after the hearing.
"If I'd known I'd be involved in any of this nonsense I would not have taken this lease."