Evicted for bond blunder, $30 debt

An Invercargill family facing eviction today over a bond blunder, and who have nowhere else to go, are urging others to know their rights and not make the same mistakes.

Brent Webster said the problem started when property company Easystart Rental Management did not lodge the family's bond with the Department of Building and Housing. The Residential Tenancies Act says failure (by a landlord) to issue a receipt or failure to forward any amount received (to Building and Housing) is an unlawful act.

When the Websters did not receive an official letter of receipt, they realised their bond had not been paid and contacted the Tenancy Tribunal.

In August 2009, the tribunal ordered Easystart to pay back the $1140 bond and awarded the family $500 in exemplary damages.

Mr Webster said he tried to get the money back for about a year but, because the company had provided only a post office box number, he was not successful.

In May last year the company was put into liquidation.

In an attempt to recoup their loss, the Websters withheld rent for four weeks, but the company which took over their property management, First National, took them to a tribunal, which ordered the family to repay the rent in instalments.

On February 4, Mr Webster received a letter from First National saying he had missed a payment, had breached the order and had seven days to vacate his Vernon St home, where the family had lived for about four years.

The $30 error is believed to have been caused by a wages payment going into his account late over Christmas, he said.

"As soon as I realised what had happened I rang the company and told them I could pay the $30 straight away but they told me it was too late and the owners wanted us out," he said.

He sought a two-week extension to find bond money for a new house as Easystart had taken his bond and he did not have a spare $1000, he said. "I think it's unfair to ask my family to pack up and leave because of a missed payment I didn't realise happened and a lost bond which was not our fault.

"I calculated that we had paid almost $60,000 in rent and to think we are being evicted for $30 is crazy," he said.

The tenancy was extended until today but because of the previous bond issue and the breach, landlords had turned him down, he said.

First National had offered to help find another property but he did not have the money for a bond, Mr Webster said.

He had contacted Housing New Zealand for emergency accommodation but was told there was a three-month wait, and he had also approached other community organisations for advice, he said.

"We were told we are the ‘victims of circumstance' and there is nothing we can do.

"We have nowhere to go . . . I don't know what to do; I am at my wits' end," he said.

Returning to the Tenancy Tribunal would take up to a month, he said.

"We are out of our home today; we don't have time to wait," he said.

He was reluctantly considering using superannuation to help cover the costs.

"My advice to other tenants is to make sure your bond is sent to the Department of Building and Housing and you get a receipt from them. This is what got us into this mess in the first place," he said.

First National general manager Dave Price said the company was aware of the family's position but the eviction stood because the company had to follow "due process" and the family had breached a tribunal order.

The company received lots of calls from various tenants about missed payments over Christmas, he said.

"If we did let every tenant off who couldn't pay, we wouldn't do the landlords' service," he said.

The company was sympathetic to the Websters' plight and was trying to find them alternative accommodation, he said.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment client advice services and education general manager Megan Martin said landlords had to lodge bonds with the Department of Building and Housing within 23 working days.

A letter of acknowledgment and a bond refund form would then be sent to the tenant and landlord, she said.

The Southland Times