A landlord who used his own key to walk into a house while a person was taking a shower has been ordered to pay $300 for invading their privacy.
In a just-released finding of the Tenancy Tribunal, property owner John Lee has been ordered to pay Shengchen Tang and Ailin Yu $300 in exemplary damages for unlawfully entering their rental property three times in three weeks earlier this year.
At one point, Lee and another person interested in renting the property entered while a tenant was washing themself in the bathroom. They were expecting the pre-arranged viewing to take place four hours later that day.
The finding says the renting couple had given notice and after turning down an offer to stay longer, were due to move out on February 12.
On January 20, Lee sent a text to the pair telling them he would be inspecting the property later that day. The couple replied they did not give their consent but, regardless, the landlord entered the house and conducted an inspection.
Finding issues with the property, he told them he would be returning in five days to see if they had fixed problems. Again, the renters did not give consent but he returned.
In this instance, the tenancy tribunal adjudicator G Guptill deemed the visit lawful.
Now needing to rent out the property, Lee arranged with the couple to show a prospective tenant through their home at 5pm on January 29. Without asking, he turned up at 1pm with a person, letting himself in with his own key. One of the tenants was in the shower at the time.
Lee then returned to the property later that day at the agreed time of 5pm with a second prospective tenant.
Two days before the couple were due to shift out, Lee sent them a text message asking where the remote was. They replied it was inside the premises and Lee responded, saying he had found it. Lee had not given notice or obtained consent from either Yu or Tang to go inside that day.
Responding to the claims, Lee said he believed he had a reason to enter the premises because he considered the tenants had breached an agreement about extending the fixed term and he needed to find new tenants. He also said he was caring for his elderly mother and did not find it easy to make prior arrangements.
In the written decision, Guptill said the law regarding a landlord's right of entry was clear and tenants should be able to enjoy their home without fear of intrusion.
He found the landlord unlawfully entered the property three times without consent.
"Having considered the evidence I am satisfied that the landlord acted intentionally. The effect on the tenants was to suffer an intrusion of their privacy," Guptill wrote in his decision.
"It is in the public interest that landlords honour their obligations under the RTA [Residential Tenancies Act] and give proper notice or obtain consent prior to entering tenancy premises so that tenants are able to enjoy their homes without their comfort and privacy being breached.
"I find they have committed an unlawful act."
The aggrieved tenants applied for a bond refund, exemplary damages for unlawful
entry by the landlord and reimbursement of the filing fee.
Because there was no evidence of prior breaches, Lee he was fined $100 for each breach, totalling $300 in exemplary damages.
In response, Lee sought unpaid rent and advertising costs for breach of
agreement to renew the tenancy, compensation for repairs and cleaning, refund of the bond, and reimbursement of the filing fee following the end of the tenancy.
He claimed the couple did not leave the premises reasonably clean and tidy and wanted reimbursement for the cost of it to be commercially cleaned.
But the tenants disputed this and were able to show photos to the tribunal that proved they left the premises reasonably clean and tidy.
"The landlord did not provide any photographs to support the claim for cleaning
costs. Having considered the evidence the Tribunal finds that the landlord has not proved this claim to the required standard," wrote Guptill in his report. That part of the claim was dismissed.
However, the tenants agreed to pay for the cost of a replacement lightbulb and tile replacement. This was subtracted from the final award.