Two landlords face criminal penalties for the first time after potentially breaching a tough sanction reserved for the worst tenancy law-breakers.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) confirmed it was investigating two possible breaches of restraining orders, which are issued for repeatedly breaking tenancy laws.
The ministry's tenancy compliance unit would not give any further details about the investigation or the identity of the landlords. If convicted, they could be fined up to $2000.
"Landlords need to be aware that by renting a private property to tenants, they are running a business and this comes with legal obligations," said Steve Watson, national manager of tenancy compliance and investigations.
"Failure to comply with the Residential Tenancies Act will not be tolerated."
The restraining orders, introduced in 2010, are rarely used. A Herald investigation found they had been issued just 14 times, usually for landlords who had repeatedly failed to lodge bond payments.
It is even more unusual for landlords to be investigated for breaching a restraining order.
If the landlords being investigated by MBIE are convicted, if would be the first such cases since the sanction was introduced 10 years ago.
The $2000 fine and conviction is the harshest penalty a person can face for breaking tenancy laws. Despite calls for a landlord register, there is no way to "strike off" a landlord.
Just one person was given a restraining order last year. Landlord Darrell Nolan was restrained for six years from committing any breaches in relation to lodging bond payments, and was fined $8600 in exemplary damages and court fees.
The Tenancy Tribunal order said he had failed to lodge tenants' bond money 39 times. Nolan did not respond to requests for comment.
Mark David Philip was restrained for two years in July 2019 after the Tenancy Tribunal found he was "patently unaware of his obligations as a landlord". He had failed to install a smoke alarm or lodge bond money, had not provided a written insulation statement, did not provide receipts for rent, and failed to provide information to MBIE.
Philip told the Herald he was unaware that he had a restraining order against him - though records show he attended the hearing by teleconference. He said he was attempting to appeal the order.
"The Tenancy Tribunal is a kangaroo court," he said. "It is just a vehicle for tenants to hide behind to get free money from landlords."
Philip made headlines during Level 4 lockdown when he tried to isolate in two rental properties in Mt Eden he owned but did not live in, alarming the tenants. He then appeared to break lockdown rules again by travelling to Waikato to find a place to stay.
Debbie Iskander, who was part of the tenancy compliance unit's largest cases was restrained for six years in 2019. She was fined $180,000 for failing to lodge bond payments in 81 cases. Iskander told the Herald in October that she was no longer a landlord.
Property lawyer Joanna Pidgeon said that historically it had been unusual for the tribunal to issue restraining orders.
"But when they see landlords making recurring breaches of the Residential Tenancies Act this is a very useful tool to try and protect tenants," she said.
"If they are in breach of that order, that is effectively being in contempt of court."
She said a maximum fine of $2000 for breaching on order was relatively low, but a criminal record could have broader implications.
MBIE has previously declined to provide a list of landlords who have broken tenancy laws, despite some of the information being publicly available online.
After an investigation, the Ombudsman said it appeared MBIE was not entitled to withhold their identities, but MBIE said it wanted to consult landlords before releasing their names - a process that is still ongoing.
The Herald obtained the list of restraining orders by scouring 10 years of Tenancy Tribunal orders.
Tenants or MBIE can ask the Tenancy Tribunal to issue a restraining order, or the tribunal can apply one on its own initiative.
Watson said that after a restraining order was obtained, investigators monitored the landlord's behaviour to ensure they were not committing further breaches.
"The degree and nature of that monitoring depends on the nature of the initial breaches and the likelihood of reoffending."
October 2020: Darrell Nolan, restrained for 6 years.
December 2019: Grant Nicholls/Redstone Ltd NZ, 1 year.
September 2019: Rinal Kumar, 5 years.
September 2019: Kevin Bustard, 6 years.
July 2019: Mark David Philip, 2 years.
May 2019: Debbie Iskander, 6 years.
May 2019: Kevin Sun / VK Property Management, 6 years.
April 2019: Jayanthi Saravanapavan, 1 year.
April 2018: Lina Liu, 2 years.
January 2018: Arie Sterk, 6 years.
August 2017: Strathvale Investments Limited, 5 years.
August 2017: Silvija Sumich, 1 year.
September 2016: Vicky Wenlin Wang, n/a
December 2015: Wayne Baker, 6 years.