Damages bid fails after drug claims
Tenancy Tribunal rejects landlord’s call for $2,000 despite overseas tests.
1 April 2023
A landlord falsely accused by her tenant of being a drug user has failed in a bid for $2,000 damages.
Anne Louisa Mary Haviland claimed the smell of the drug or drugs the landlord, who has name suppression, used every day and night permeated into her apartment. “I have owned my own medical practice so I know what Cannabus [sic] smells like. This is unacceptable behaviour of a landlord and has impacted on my [sic] greatly,” she claimed.
The allegation arose when Haviland wanted to terminate the fixed term tenancy from July 2020 to July 2021 early, saying the washing machine was too small and being on the top floor of the premises was either too hot or too cold as well as alleging the landlord used drugs.
At the time the landlord was in the UK. While out of New Zealand she appointed an agent and gave Haviland the details.
On April 29, 2022 Haviland emailed the agent saying they had not been to the premises: “So you cannot make statements saying that [the landlord/s] is not dependent on drugs (or do you do drugs as well?). You are an unreliable source of information. Whereas I am the one that has been living here, breathing in her s*** day and night and her putrid toxic body smell at night when she sleeps, which is sickening.”
Haviland emailed the agent again on May 1 saying, “It seems you are not able to handle this situation property [sic] and in a straightforward democratic manner. As I have seen in the past your inability to handle any situation but in [sic] except in a agitated, not wanting to do anything as it should be, and just not by thinking normally, as a drug dependent person does.”
DRUG TEST BILL
Because of the seriousness of the allegations the landlord obtained a drug test in the UK four days after the email to the agent, at a cost of $708.90. The hair analysis test detected no cannabis.
Six days later, Haviland emailed the landlord disputing she had been notified in writing the agent was appointed to oversee the premises, and she would not agree to meet the agent nor was the agent permitted to enter the premises. “Also, there is my health and safety to consider, as the agent has shown to me, in writing, that she is biased and aggressive towards me.
“If she is as close a fried [sic] to you, as what you say, then I can only come to the conclusion that the agent takes drugs as often as yourself. Certainly her communication to me shows her inability to comprehend and understand my position. “They doe [sic] say that Cannibus [sic] ‘fry’s the brain’. Therefore I will not met [sic] with her at any time and on any basis.”
On June 14 the landlord filed an application with the tribunal claiming among other things $2,000 in general damages on the basis of emotional stress and anxiety due to unsubstantiated claims from the tenant.
Haviland’s only evidence about drug use by the landlord was that “she could smell cannabis”. Tribunal adjudicator R Woodhouse said in his view that was weak evidence. “The tenant has not given evidence of seeing the landlord use cannabis; she has also not presented qualifications which would lead me to conclude the tenant would have sufficient expertise to be able to reliably confirm an odour was cannabis.”
He found the allegations unsubstantiated and said having observed the landlord at two hearings he accepted the landlord had been severely impacted by the tenant’s actions. “I also consider the tenant has not realised the effect her allegations have had on the landlord.”
As a result of her experiences, the landlord told the tribunal she does not feel she would be able to rent the premises again because she has been traumatised by the tenant.
Despite this, Woodhouse says that does not mean the tribunal can order damages for the landlord. “The tribunal can only make orders which relate to a breach of the tenancy agreement, or an order the High Court could make in relation to contracts. In this case there is no term in the tenancy agreement which required mental satisfaction of the contract, so as to be a basis to make any order.”