Three tenants filming Hollywood's blockbuster Avatar sequel have accused their landlord of profiteering from the coronavirus outbreak by unfairly pocketing $20,000.
Tenant Mike McCrae believes property owner Glenn Tulloch is being greedy by refusing to allow them to shorten their four-month Wellington rental term after the coronavirus outbreak brought Avatar filming to a halt.
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Tulloch called the matter "unfortunate" and said he was willing to abide by a Tenancy Tribunal disputes ruling on the matter.
McCrae said he and two colleagues moved into the Houghton Bay rental owned by Tulloch on March 8 before filming for Hollywood's $1.65 billion Avatar sequel.
They paid about $20,000 upfront for a four-month term, plus a $3000 deposit.
But three days later, Avatar filming temporarily shut because of the emerging coronavirus outbreak, before being canned indefinitely four days after that.
McCrae said he asked Tulloch if the trio could forfeit a month's rent and get a refund for the rest, but this was refused.
McCrae said he next offered to forfeit two months' rent or $10,000 in exchange for a refund for the rest, which was also refused.
"The one offer he did come back - which was the most insulting thing - he said he would be willing to keep our $20k and put the house back up for rent and we could split the money he earned," he said.
"So essentially he would keep the $20,000 and get another $150 a day on top of it, while we would get $150 a day back."
"It is so greedy."
The saga comes as the global coronavirus outbreak has thrown tenants and landlords into turmoil.
Short-term rental incomes have been hit especially hard as tourism collapsed and holiday-home bookings dried up.
Because of the extraordinary circumstances, Airbnb has offered guests booking rentals in March and late April full refunds.
McCrae and Tulloch's was a private lease agreement.
"I know what you are saying with Airbnb - and we've got bookings coming up right up between now and Christmas," Tulloch told the Herald.
"So I would say none of those will happen because obviously the people won't be able to get there, there is all these lockdowns."
"So they won't happen."
"But in this particular case, they've moved into the house and their situation with the film changed after they were in the house, so I'm not too sure how this plays out."
Tulloch said he would be happy to abide by a Tenancy Tribunal decision on the matter.
"This might be happening around the country a fair bit and I guess the tribunal will make the call."
A leading property industry source, who did not want to be named in relation to this case, said a four-month lease was not deemed a short-term rental like Airbnb listings and could be heard at the Tenancy Tribunal.
McCrae could apply to end the tenancy early on the grounds of unforeseen hardship, unless Tulloch could prove he would be worse off if the tenancy didn't go ahead, the source said.
Tulloch said he'd already spent the $20,000 from McCrae paying tradies to install gas services, a heat pump and other improvements into the house in the days before McCrae moved in.
But McCrae believes it is unfair to keep all the money.