Author: Susan Edmunds

A landlord and former tenant are locked in a standoff over a $6500 bill for carpet damage.

Property owners Catherine Buchanan and Ian Thomson say they have been left significantly out of pocket by damage to their Kāpiti property.

They say pet damage, including faeces and urine on the carpet,  meant months of work to get the house back in a condition that it could be relet.

But tenant Charlie Timmons, says she is being asked to foot a much bigger bill than is reasonable. She says she feels taken advantage of as a low-income, single-mother dealing with experienced landlords.

The tenancy, at 222 Matai Rd, Raumati Beach, ended in December. It was managed by Quinovic.

Timmons says the final inspection only picked up things such as dust on lightbulbs and skirting boards.

But then she was contacted and told she was being taken to the Tenancy Tribunal and would not get any of her bond back until that case was heard.

When the parties first appeared in February, Timmons sought a refund of the bond and the cost of a Rug Doctor she used to clean the carpet. 

Buchanan and Thomson argued they should get the bond, as well as rent arrears, compensation for carpet cleaning and flea treatment, other cleaning costs and compensation for garden work.

They said they had not approved Timmons' pets and the property was not suitable for animals.  Buchanan said Timmons had tried to cover up the presence of her pets.

Timmons said Buchanan and Thomson knew she had animals at the property, although they were not in the tenancy agreement. She said she paid an extra $10 a week on top of her $480 a week rent to allow for them. The landlords deny this agreement was made.

The landlord's evidence to the tribunal showed that there was dog hair on the carpets, several stains and burn marks on the carpets throughout the premises, cat faeces under a stairwell and the landlord's contractors reported fleas.

They said they had to have the fleas treated and the carpets cleaned. The cleaning checklist sent to the tenant before the tenancy ended required the carpets to be cleaned due to a dog being present at the premises but specifically stated that Rug Doctor equipment not be used.

The owners said they tried for weeks to air the property to remove the urine smell but ended up having to replace the carpet. The property was empty from December until Easter as a result.

The tribunal adjudicator largely backed the property owners, although Timmons was given $200 in compensation for a contractor arriving without notice and $20 for power used by the owners.

They went back to the tribunal in June to discuss the replaced carpet.

Timmons said she found out about the second tribunal date when someone turned up at her new property and started taking photos of her car. "She said 'I've found you at last.'"

A witness told the tribunal that the house had a moist smell which he compared to ammonia or wine. He also described carrying out a test with peroxide, which reacts with urine to create a foam, and foaming occurred.

He said the carpet was discoloured, which he attributed to the application of chemicals. He described the condition of the carpet as generally good, and not old. He noted that there were a number of marks, some of which could been caused accidentally.

He inspected the carpet again a few weeks later, prior to Christmas, and described it as still smelly. 

But Timmons said she felt she was being used to pay for renovations. She had been given the opportunity to terminate her fixed-term early because they wanted to renovate.

The landlords said that was untrue and their renovations would not have included replacing the carpet.

Timmons asked why her three-monthly inspections had not shown up such serious problems with the property.

The tribunal sided with the owners, who were given $6490 for the replacement of the carpet.

But their claim for compensation for loss of rent was not allowed.

"[They] gave evidence that once they discovered the damage, they attempted to air the premises rather than replace the carpet as they did not have funds to do so: in the end they borrowed to replace the carpet," the adjudicator said.

"It was clear from the landlord's evidence that they are in the business of letting residential properties. Like any business, they are expected to be in a financial position to meet costs that arise and the choice to delay replacement for economic reasons is one for which they must accept the consequences."

Charlie Timmons moved out of the Kapiti Coast house in December.

Buchanan said they "lost their entire summer" cleaning up. She said she did not hold her property manager responsible. "Inspections can only see what the tenant wants the property manager to see."

Buchanan said she had tried to contact Timmons to get her to pay the amount she was ordered but had not been successful.

She said her lawyer had told her he was trying to negotiate a payment plan. Her application for a rehearing had failed. "It's completely unfair. There were only two rooms that were stained and only minor stains," Timmons said. "I'm a solo parent on a low income, I'm an easy target. There were no fleas. It was not infested."

Timmons said her new landlord had been told by the former property manager that she was a bad tenant. 

One of the carpet stains, (left) from the landlord perspective and (right) from the tenant.

Buchanan said she had been told an offer had been made of $5 a week towards the debt. But even at 3.5 per cent interest, $6500 was $4.38 a week.

 "There's a public perception that all landlords must be rich. Yes we have assets but trying to find $6500 to repair carpets was not expected neither was $3000 of lost rent in peak letting season. I don't know if we'll ever get our money but we're going to try."    

Timmons said she should have been asked to pay an excess for the owners to claim on their insurance policy. But Buchanan said, because the tribunal said the damage was intentional, in that she must have known about the risk of damage from her pets and disregarded it,  insurance would not cover it.  

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