A landlord who managed up to 100 properties in South Auckland has been ordered to pay nearly $180,000 by the Tenancy Tribunal for repeated law-breaking over three years.
Widharni Iskander "deliberately and knowingly" failed to lodge bond payments in 81 cases, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said today.
It was the largest case taken by MBIE's tenancy compliance team, which has the power to step in and represent tenants in the most serious breaches of tenancy laws. In all, 197 separate complaints were jointly heard against Iskander.
It is also the largest fine for a landlord since the Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team was set up in 2016.
"The legal requirement to lodge tenants' bond money with the Bond Centre is a fundamental responsibility landlords have under New Zealand's tenancy law," said Steve Watson, MBIE's acting general manager of housing and tenancy services.
"Trust is a key component in the relationship between a landlord and a tenant, and for a landlord to breach that trust on a scale such as this is unacceptable."
Iskander, who goes by the name Debbie, has been ordered to pay back $119,625 in bond money. She was also ordered to pay $47,600 for other illegal activity related to bond payments, and $10,495 in tribunal costs.
MBIE said it would take Iskander to court if she failed to come up with the money.
"[The compliance team] has the ability to enforce this significant number of orders through the District Court, if Ms Iskander fails to comply we will not hesitate to do so," Watson said.
Tenancy Tribunal orders show that Iskander sometimes took bond payments in cash, did not lodge them with the Tenancy Bond Centre - and often failed to return the money to tenants when they moved out.
She insisted to the tribunal that she always refunded the bond to the tenants in cash, but was unable to provide documentation to prove this.
The scale of her business was significant. MBIE estimated that she let between 90 and 100 properties in South Auckland.
She would rent properties herself and then sub-let them to low-income families who were desperate for shelter. At one point, she had around 150 tenants, and the Ministry of Social Development was among her clients.
In 2016, Iskander was found to be renting out illegally converted garages for well above market rent during the peak of the housing crisis.
When her illegal activity was exposed, she was believed to have evicted all of the tenants, Radio New Zealand reported at the time.
Despite her repeated offending, Iskander is still working as a landlord.
"There is no legal provision for us to exclude someone from being a landlord," Watson said.
"We must deal with the law as it stands today. We would hope that she's learned her lesson, and we will be following up on this."
Watson said MBIE would also continue to focus on other landlords who systematically broke tenancy laws.
"We will also continue to identify landlords who fail to properly install mandatory smoke alarms, provide insulation statements and – following the 1 July 2019 deadline – install insulation."