Lawyer ordered to refund tenants

18:14, Jul 01 2013
Chloe Cairncross
UNHAPPY TENANT: Chloe Cairncross outside her flat in Upland Rd, Kelburn, Wellington, where earthquake strengthening work has continued on and off for six months. She and her flatmates have been awarded $5120 in compensation.

A prominent tenancy lawyer and member of two government tribunals has been ordered to pay compensation to her own tenants.

Marilyn Wallace, a member of the Social Security Appeal Authority and principal member of the State Housing Appeal Authority, must pay $5120 to the tenants of a flat in Upland Rd, Kelburn, after earthquake-strengthening work that was supposed to last "a couple of days" continued on and off for six months.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said last night he was disappointed Ms Wallace had not advised him of the case.

When the five tenants signed the lease for the flat, they were told it needed work on only one of the bedrooms, which would take "a couple of days" in January.

Tenant Chloe Cairncross said the work had been disruptive and unpleasant, with drilling and building noise a continual presence in their lives.

"The builders said they never had to do this kind of work with tenants in the building before."

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They also lost privacy, as workmen walked in and out of the flat.

Scaffolding was erected around the house for four weeks, limiting light and access to the building.

One tenant had what appeared to be an allergic reaction to putty used in a wall, which left an astringent smell in the flat.

The flatmates decided to go to the Tenancy Tribunal seeking compensation greater than Ms Wallace was prepared to offer, plus release from the tenancy.

The case was heard last Friday and the compensation awarded. A full judgment is expected to be published later.

Ms Wallace and her husband, Bruce Corkill, said they regretted the delays caused by the works.

"[We] endeavoured to engage with the tenants to resolve the issues, which proved difficult," they said. "[We] are pleased that this matter has now been resolved by the decision of the Tenancy Tribunal."

The $5120 awarded covers "loss of quiet enjoyment" during 19 weeks of work on the property. It also refunds a tenant who was shifted from his room to a smaller, less furnished flat in the house during the strengthening work, and builders' power costs.

Ms Cairncross and the other tenants are now free to move elsewhere. They would pay rent for two more weeks, she said.

Dr Smith said: "Ministers expect no surprises and, without making any judgment on the case, I should have been informed that it was before the Tenancy Tribunal.

"There is a difference between the Tenancy Tribunal, which considers tenancy disputes, and the State Housing Appeal Authority, which considers housing allocation and income-related rents. However, they are related, and that is why I would have expected a heads-up."

He would not comment further until he had read the full judgment.

The Dominion Post