Invercargill landlord fined $38,000 over unlodged bonds
An Invercargill landlord has been ordered to pay a total of $38,713.76 in exemplary damages and costs, after "repeated and persistent" failures to lodge bond money.
The Tenancy Tribunal found Strathvale Investments Ltd and sole director Murray Baird received bond payments from tenants for 54 separate tenancies, which he did not forward to Tenancy Services' Bond Centre, as required by law.
When asked for comment on Thursday, Baird said the order was "not a big deal", and declined to comment further.
Tenancy compliance and investigations national manager Steve Watson said Baird's actions were "unacceptable".
"The proper handling of bonds is an integral part of maintaining trust in the tenancy system, as well as ensuring the rights of tenants are protected.
"Mr Baird's actions broke that trust 54 times for personal gain, and his repeated and persistent breach of the [Residential Tenancies Act] is unacceptable and reflected in the high damages cost awarded.
"This decision should send a strong message to landlords that there is no excuse for not complying with tenancy law, and the penalties for not doing so are high."
Watson said if Baird was found failing to lodge bonds in the future, the investigation team would not hesitate in pursuing criminal charges in the District Court.
According to the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords must lodge any bond moneys with Tenancy Services within 23 working days of receipt.
"[The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's] tenancy compliance and investigations team investigated a complaint from a tenant who didn't receive a bond lodgment receipt for a property rented to them by Mr Baird", Watson said.
"Our investigation found non-compliance with the bond requirements of the [act] across Mr Baird's entire portfolio of residential properties, prompting [the ministry] to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal.
In July 2016 amendments were made to the act, giving the tenancy compliance and investigations team greater powers to prosecute landlords, Watson said.
"This case is another powerful example of how we are using these powers to ensure landlords who seriously breach basic housing standards are held to account."
In addition to the $38,713.76 awarded by the Tribunal, Strathvale Investments has been restrained from committing further similar breaches of the act for a period of five years.
In October 2013, Baird's Rugby Park Food Centre was the target of a joint operation between the Invercargill City Council, Invercargill police and Public Health South.
Baird had been selling legal highs at the business, despite legislation in July 2013 prohibiting the sale of psychoactive substances in dairies.
Following the operation, the store was shut down for 14 days because of health and safety concerns, before reopening in November 2013.