Landlord apologises for power blunder

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2014
Manners St tenants
MATT DUNCAN/ Fairfax NZ
NO CHOICE: From left, students Bridget Beattie, Larissa Cameron and Natasha McGoram were among tenants at 107 Manners St who had their electricity supplier changed without their consent. 

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Developer Ian Cassels has admitted his company "stuffed up" after it breached tenancy law by changing the power supply to his buildings without consent.

Te Aro Tenancies, which is run by Cassels' son Alexander and manages his central-city apartment blocks, changed to a single supply from Switch Utilities at 107 Manners St on March 1, without giving tenants a choice in the matter.

Cassels said it was his decision, done because he thought it would be a better deal for tenants, and he now realised it was the wrong way to go about it.

Jay Maaka and his flatmates at the building were happy with PowerShop as their supplier, but were told it was being changed to Switch with six days' notice.

Maaka, an accountancy and commercial law student, said he had never heard of Switch before and asked for an explanation. "We called them and told them we didn't want to be with Switch. They said we had to."

He discovered the Residential Tenancies Act specifically stops landlords from "interfering with the supply of gas, electricity, water, telephone services, or other services to the premises", unless it is for maintenance and safety.

After raising the issue with Te Aro Tenancies, Maaka was promised his flat supply would be returned to PowerShop. But they - and other tenants - continued to get bills from Switch for two months. Te Aro Tenancies said this was an administrative error.

Maaka's neighbour, Larissa Cameron, and flatmates Bridget Beattie and Natasha McGoram had similar problems. Cameron was told by Trustpower, another supplier, that it would not service the property because Te Aro Tenancies, and by extension Cassels, had not followed industry rules.

Cassels said Te Aro Tenancies had lost "a fortune" rewiring the apartments to allow for multiple suppliers again, but said no real harm had been done.

"I know that we made a mistake . . . Sometimes things get stuffed up. My responsibility . . . the way to fix a mistake is to apologise and not do it again."

Switch Utilities said it was "not at liberty" to speak about arrangements with building owners.

PowerShop chief executive Ari Sargent said limiting consumer choice was reprehensible. "Obviously, we've got a stake in this . . . but it's more than losing one or two customers. It's the principle."

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