Handcream sellers trash rental

17:00, May 05 2012

Israelis working for a Dead Sea beauty product company trashed a rental property, using it as a warehouse and causing $24,000 damage, the landlord says.

Cambridge woman Glenna Bueno is warning landlords to beware of renting properties to employees of LVS Retail, after her house was damaged and fittings stolen. She is taking the company to the Disputes Tribunal.

The Sunday Star-Times has heard of other cases of rental property being damaged, and last year revealed how workers selling Dead Sea creams in malls had come to the attention of Immigration NZ and other government agencies.

Officers shut one kiosk in Auckland's Sylvia Park, where three people were working illegally on visitor visas, but by the time they arrived at a second kiosk, the workers had fled.

The paper also reported a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks that revealed how the Dead Sea beauty product business had become a global scam, with allegations of immigration fraud, illegal labour, money-laundering and worker exploitation.

Bueno said she was approached by a man in 2010 to rent her four-bedroom Cambridge house on behalf of a couple arriving from Israel. He didn't want to see the home, and paid in cash. But the first time she did an inspection, she was shocked. "You would have thought a bomb had gone off."

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The tenants kept all the curtains, blinds and windows shut, and the lights on 24 hours a day, until the fittings burnt out. "For two years they never opened a blind or a window, or turned the lights off. I said `you can't live like this, it's unacceptable'.

"They kept saying they were scared. I think it was a secrecy thing, they didn't want people knowing what was going on."

Bueno found a steady stream of workers was coming and going, and the home was being used as a warehouse for stock to supply kiosks in Hamilton and Tauranga.

"The garage was chocka. They'd stapled stock labels to our curtains. All they would say is they were working for Israel, it was very odd."

Bueno said she allowed the tenancy to continue because the company always paid on time and nothing "drastic" had happened. But when she did another inspection she found damage that cost $24,000 to fix.

"They had two containers of acetone on our carpet and it leaked. They used it to clean all the stainless, it stripped the chrome off. The carpets were a write-off. They had a flood in the kitchen, the walls were damaged."

She alleges a new oven was ruined, and light fittings, door handles and even toilet roll holders were stolen. She offered to meet half the repair costs but when the company refused to accept that, she went to the Disputes Tribunal.

Auckland-based LVS Retail administration manager Aviva Raisun, declined to comment. She told the Star-Times to put questions in writing so company owners could respond, but would not supply an email address, only a box number.

Sunday Star Times