An Auckland landlord trespassed a tenant before dumping their belongings and changing the locks, the bitter battle ending up before the Tenancy Tribunal.
The feud between landlord Karen Bartlett and the tenant of her caravan, Natalie Heywood, had a "tortuous" background, tribunal adjudicator John Greene said in a recent ruling.
Heywood's four-month tenancy of the caravan, located in the small, coastal town of Snells Beach, "did not go well", Greene said in an order dated March 12. Heywood occupied the caravan from May 25, 2019 until she was trespassed from the premises in September that year.
Both women accused one another of a number of wrongdoings. Heywood detailed how Bartlett threatened to disconnect the power supply - which she did - and continually breached her privacy by unlawfully entering the caravan and interfering with her quiet enjoyment, amounting to harassment. Bartlett then trespassed Heywood from the premises, dumping her possessions 11 kilometres away in a public area.
Heywood also alleged Bartlett's behaviour was "generally bullying and belittling".
Conversely, Bartlett claimed Heywood deliberately ran the water to empty the tank in "retaliation" and damaged several feijoa treats "out of spite", allegations the tribunal could not prove based on the evidence provided. However, Greene noted the landlord "probably [had] good reason" to suspect Heywood was the culprit.
Bartlett also claimed costs against Heywood for "packing, storing and transporting" her possessions "to a collection point".
"Each party would like me to think they were the blameless victim of the other's bad behaviour," Greene said.
"I doubt that very much. More likely is that each acted poorly throughout the tenancy, each in different ways."
The tenancy came to a sour end when Bartlett issued a trespass notice against Heywood, removing her possessions from the caravan and dumping them on a road. She also changed the lock - a failure on Bartlett's part, Greene said, as she had effectively taken possession of the caravan unlawfully.
He called her disposal of Heywood's belongings both "inappropriate" and "callous".
The police were involved, Greene noted, with Bartlett serving the trespass notice and changing the lock on police advice.
But he said Bartlett's claim for "packing, storing and transporting" Heywood's possessions was "bold in the extreme", noting that under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (RTA), the landlord is required to safely store the goods, attempt to return them to the tenant, and if not possible, apply to the tribunal for a 'disposal of goods' order.
In her application, Bartlett also claimed Heywood owed a week of rent, as well as compensation for the repair of a broken window and a microwave that was left outside. She also attempted to claim back the costs of cleaning, rubbish disposal and changing the caravan's lock.
The majority of Bartlett's claims were dismissed due to her unlawfully taking possession of the caravan. However, she was awarded $155 in rent arrears, $50 to cover the replacement of the microwave, and $100 for removing seagrass brought onto the property by Heywood.
Bartlett had committed multiple unlawful acts, Greene said, including trespassing Heywood; illegally taking possession of the caravan; harassing Heywood by entering the premises and going through her possessions; breaching Heywood's right to privacy; wrongfully disposing of Heywood's belongings; and unlawfully changing the locks.
"I cannot overlook the fact that the landlord breached the RTA and that some of the breaches were serious breaches and amounted to unlawful acts," Greene said.
The tribunal ruled there was no basis for Bartlett's claim for exemplary damages, an award given to people who are victims of willfully malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton, or grossly reckless behaviour by another.
"The landlord has not identified any breach by [Heywood] that amounts to a defined (under the RTA) unlawful act. Mental and emotional harm is not defined as an unlawful act, though harassment by a landlord against a tenant is."
However, Greene acknowledged that Heywood had suffered some losses as a result of Bartlett dumping her possessions, and the circumstances had caused her anxiety and inconvenience.
Heywood was awarded $500 in compensation and $1000 in exemplary damages. In addition, Bartlett was also ordered to pay Heywood the bond of $310.