What rights do you have if your second-hand goods don't work as advertised?

When his iPhone stopped working, one schoolboy set out to get his money back.
When his iPhone stopped working, one schoolboy set out to get his money back. Photo credit: Getty Images

With the high price of new phones, gaming consoles and computers, it can always be tempting to try and find a second-hand bargain online.

But what rights do people have when things go wrong?

"Many of us buy second-hand goods off TradeMe and social media marketplaces. There are laws in place that can help buyers if their purchase doesn't end up being what the seller promised," Consumer NZ head of content Caitlin Cherry said.

One such case was James de Hair, a 15-year-old from Kāpiti College, who bought an iPhone XS Max from Facebook Marketplace in June last year.

He negotiated the price down from $800 to $750, which he considered a good deal for a phone which retailed brand-new for over $2000. He also asked questions to ensure he was satisfied with its condition.

"I asked whether the phone has its original battery. And would my SIM card be compatible," he said.

"The seller assured me it was all good, and the phone was advertised as being in perfect condition."

However after just three months, the phone stopped receiving a cellular signal, rendering it unusable. De Hair tried to get it repaired, but an authorised Apple repair centre told him they weren't able to fix it as the SIM card tray didn't match the phone's serial number.

Another repair shop said there was major water damage, with rust along the edge of the frame and a new battery had been put in.

De Hair contacted the seller, now knowing the phone wasn't in the perfect condition that had been claimed, but they refused to provide a full refund. His aunt then suggested going to the disputes tribunal.

"I wasn't going to get my money back any other way," he said. "I thought, let's take him to the tribunal - what's the worst that can happen? It's only $45 to file it."

At the hearing, the seller claimed the phone had never been tampered with, but de Hair had printed all his evidence and was able to read it out.

The tribunal referee concluded there had been misrepresentation in how the seller had advertised the phone to the schoolboy. The seller agreed to pay back the $750 and James used the money to buy another phone from Facebook Marketplace - what he considers a "better trade".

"If you find yourself buying something that isn't what the seller told you it was, you have rights to ensure it gets put right," Cherry said.

"Taking your claim to the disputes tribunal like James did is an affordable, quick and informal way to get your case resolved.

"The disputes tribunal is in place to help the public navigate the legal system without going to court," Cherry continued.

"There are no lawyers, and your case isn't presided over by a judge, but a referee who's trained in dispute resolution. They encourage the two parties to reach an agreement before making a binding decision."

Dispute tribunals in New Zealand can hear claims up to $30,000 and aren't solely for technology products.

The lowest fee is $45, if the total amount sought is less than $2000. The highest fee is $180, for a claim between $5000 and $30,000.

After filing, it usually takes six weeks for the hearing date. What the tribunal rules is the final say and must be followed.