He says he felt like David and they most certainly looked like Goliath.
Wellington landlord Matt Ryan was back before the Tenancy Tribunal yesterday arguing for a ruling they'd made in March for $20,000 against the European Union deputy head of mission Eva Tvarozkova, who broke her rental lease early and left his property with damage and unpaid rent.
Ryan was appearing with an old schoolmate and was up against our Foreign Ministry with three of their lawyers and the absent diplomats represented by another three lawyers.
Before they all became involved the Tribunal made its ruling against her, unaware she was a diplomat. Tvarozkova had apparently texted her status to an underling but word failed to make it up the food chain.
The Tribunal essentially had no choice but to order a rehearing to establish whether diplomatic immunity should apply in this case. Although the reason, that there had been a miscarriage of justice or a substantial wrongdoing in her case, should more correctly apply to the landlord.
The immunity law, if it ends up applying in this case, is an ass.
Ryan rightly argued before his formidable legal opponents that if it did apply it'd send a message to all landlords that if they take a diplomat on as a tenant then the agreements they sign aren't worth the paper they're written on.
He says she entered the deal as a private citizen, referred to him by a letting agent. It was a private transaction, not a diplomatic one, which seems to be the key in this case.
Similar cases in Canada involving diplomats denied them immunity because they took the lease in a personal capacity, not an official one. They were ordered to meet their responsibilities, just as this diplomat should be ordered to do.
Landlords are not surprisingly unnerved by the case. Ryan says the current landlord of her $3000 a week apartment's contacted him concerned that she may now bail on him.
The arrogance of immunity in cases like this not only reflects badly on the countries the diplomats represent, they fall well short of doing what is right. Ryan told the Tribunal he twice privately approached Tvarozkova, unsuccessfully offering a negotiated settlement with the money going to a housing charity.
During the latest Tribunal hearing one word was absent throughout, morality.
You'd think Eva Tvarozkova should know better. Her CV tells us she was the negotiations coordinator for the "Partnership Agreement on Relations and Co-operation between the EU and New Zealand."