Tenants who tried to cover up smashed-in and scribbled-on walls, broken doors, and urine-stained carpet in a rental property have been ordered to pay $31,000 in damages and costs - one of the largest Tenancy Tribunal orders in recent months.
Chayse Sean Russell and Shaniz Roxzan Young were taken to the tribunal by the owners of a 16th Ave property in Tauranga. The pair moved into the property in July 2019.
Twenty months into the tenancy, an inspection was carried out by the landlords Gordon and Susan Oakley who discovered extensive damage, deemed by the tribunal to be intentional.
The damage included broken and scribbled-on walls, damaged doors, carpet stains and damage to parts of the kitchen and shower.
The tribunal found at no point did the tenants alert their landlord to the damage, instead, they covered it up.
The pair replaced painted doors with hollow unpainted doors, roughly plastered holes in walls and repapered the walls with a roll that didn't match.
The tribunal found the damage occurred "in an episode by kicking and punching holes in them".
Urine stains were found on the carpet - deemed to be from an animal which was not permitted in the home.
The landlords also successfully claimed the tenants smoked cannabis at the property, despite Young and Russell denying they grew or smoked the plant.
Evidence was provided showing positive results for the drug on the curtains, and a photo from a neighbour appeared to show a cannabis plant in the backyard.
The tribunal concluded, on the balance of probabilities, cannabis was smoked and grown at the property. However, the tribunal didn't take a hard line on the drug use, ordering exemplary damages of $150.
"There is limited public interest in sanctioning this behaviour. The police do not take action unless there are multiple complaints, as the landlord's evidence shows. The effect has been minimal."
The most significant aspect of the landlord's claim was the tenants refusing them entry to the property.
The tribunal found that on three occasions the tenants denied entry to tradespeople undertaking repairs and the landlords, despite being given prior warning of the visit. The tribunal awarded $1000 in exemplary damages.
In response to the claims alleged by the landlord, Young and Russell jointly filed a counterclaim totalling $99,000 - $35,000 of which was claimed compensation for "stress".
Also included was $107 for two doctor's visits and compensation for loss of work from the "unexpected visits" from the landlord.
Russell and Young also alleged the adult daughter of one of the landlords had created "fake" social media accounts to "stalk" the tenants. The claim failed due to insufficient evidence.
The tenants' only success in their counterclaim came from a complaint against the landlord's smoking and naked flame ban within the property.
While the ban was justified within the four walls of the house, "the ban on smoking outside is an intrusion on the tenant's right to make full use of the property".
They were awarded $250, which was subtracted from the $31,128 order. In total, the pair were ordered to pay $10,233 in unpaid rent and repair costs, while also being ordered to pay the landlords' legal costs of $20,895.
Tenant declared bankrupt
It is not known how much of the $31,000 order has been paid to the landlords, who declined to comment when approached by Open Justice.
According to the insolvency register, Russell was declared bankrupt in the weeks immediately after the tribunal's order. Young has entered into a no asset procedure arrangement.
The pair sought legal counsel and filed an application for a rehearing in the tribunal, claiming a miscarriage of justice.
The basis for that application was the pair being denied entry to the court during a third hearing related to the original claim. The pair were denied entry due to being unvaccinated.
Under court rules, unvaccinated defendants could still enter Ministry of Justice buildings on the condition they return a negative rapid antigen test. The pair chose not to undertake a test and the hearing went ahead without them.
Russell's lawyer Laura Jeffries claimed the requirement to take a test was a breach of the Bill of Rights Act.
The tribunal ultimately declined the application for a rehearing, finding no miscarriage of justice took place.
In a statement, Russell said he continues to believe that a miscarriage of justice occurred and expressed his disappointment at the decision.