Quake 'victims' costly tenants

WRECKAGE:  Tineke Pauling with damage to her rental property.
WRECKAGE: Tineke Pauling with damage to her rental property.

A Nelson homeowner has been left out of pocket and out of sympathy after offering help to a family in what she thought were desperate circumstances.

Tineke Pauling, who lives in Hira, rents out a three-bedroom weatherboard home in central Stoke, which she bought when she was 21.

She ran a series of viewings in July to decide on a new tenant for the house, when a Christchurch couple who went by the names of Sarah Smith and Christopher Snowsill got in touch.

MESS LEFT: Tineke Pauling surveys the toys left behind by her former tenants.
MESS LEFT: Tineke Pauling surveys the toys left behind by her former tenants.

"I had actually decided on a tenant, and then I got a phone call from this woman, who was absolutely desperate. She said her family were victims from the Christchurch earthquake, they had lost everything and they were living in a friend's garage."

Feeling sympathetic, Mrs Pauling showed them and their two young children around the house. Their willingness to move in immediately was a bonus for Mrs Pauling, who has been unable to work since a road accident injured her wrist.

The first sign of trouble with her new tenants came in August, when she noticed they were behind with their rent.

"I emailed them the first time to see if they were OK, because I'm a nice girl and I want to see if people are OK."

She emailed again two weeks later, and said this second email kicked off several weeks' worth of tense contact that carried on into last month.

"They were really aggro, nasty people. It was like a complete black and white from what we'd met [at the house viewing]."

Documents from the Tenancy Tribunal have since revealed that the couple left their previous Songer St address owing more than $7000 to the landlord. The money covered unpaid rent, and the "long and extremely unpleasant" removal of large amounts of rubbish from a garden shed.

The hearing took place in August while Mrs Smith and Mr Snowsill lived at Mrs Pauling's property. Mr Snowsill went by the name Chris Curtis at this point.

Another series of orders from the tribunal relate to a property in Parkers Rd, Tahunanui, owned by Nelson man Craig Sim and his then-partner Debbie Beard. Mrs Pauling's tenants lived at this property during 2011, and were fined $1817.60 to cover unpaid rent and the cost of water damage.

Mr Sim said it had cost him considerably more than this to pursue the case, but he felt compelled to do so out of a sense of justice.

"I thought, ‘You're just going to go out and do this to another person', which they obviously have."

He said Mrs Pauling's story rang true with what he had experienced, right down to the hard-luck tale about Christchurch and subsequent aggressive behaviour.

Mrs Pauling last month arranged an inspection of the house, but said she and husband Greg McDonald were chased off the property before they could enter. She said Mrs Smith pursued her out the gate and down the footpath while attempting to slap her in the face.

Mrs Pauling called the tribunal from a neighbour's house after taking refuge there. "We just knew we were heading down a really bad road with these people and we wanted them out."

At a hearing on October 16, Mrs Smith was served with an immediate eviction notice. She was ordered to pay $1320.44 to Mrs Pauling.

After more tension on moving day, Mrs Pauling was left with a property she now deems "too gross" to rent out for several weeks.

"It's quite special to me, this house. It's not just an investment property, it's my family home."

The front garden is now crammed with dozens of black rubbish bags, and the back garden is littered with discarded toys that have been left out in the rain. The garage contains more toys, more rubbish and even an unopened container of Chinese takeaways.

Televisions, desks, chairs, and clothing line the driveway. Inside, the house is not much better - Mrs Pauling pointed out a bundle of urine-soaked children's bedsheets which had been left in the bath, doors ripped off kitchen cabinets and numerous other points of damage.

As a professional cleaner of rental properties, Mrs Pauling said she had seen worse, but she wanted to remind other landlords to be careful about who they rented to. "It seems like they've done something in every room," she said. "I feel ripped-off and lied to."

Nelson police are investigating the damage to Mrs Pauling's house. The tenants could not be contacted.