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Tenant Left With Bill Despite Moving Out

The Tenancy Tribunal has ruled a woman, who left a rental she shared with her partner after discovering he was using meth, is still liable for damages.

By: Sally Lindsay

29 December 2023

A woman who left a rented Manurewa, Auckland property she shared with her partner after discovering he was using methamphetamine is still liable for a half share of Tenancy Tribunal awarded exemplary damages and other debts owed to the landlord.

The property was uninhabitable at the end of the tenancy and required extensive restoration after decontamination, costing $40,284.

Taurean McLean McKenzie and the woman were in a relationship at the start and during most of the tenancy. However, the woman, who has name suppression, left the property after discovering McKenzie was using meth in the home.

He stayed on at the rental after she left. About three months later the woman told Wise Property Management, and landlord Yun Fan, that McKenzie was using meth at the rental. That led to Fan undertaking meth testing and tenancy termination.

Denying she used meth, the woman took a drug test confirming she did not have drugs in her system at the time the property was being tested for contamination.

Joint Tenancy

Unfortunately, for personal reasons she did not remove herself from the tenancy agreement at the time she left the property. She did ask the landlord, when she told him about her former partner using meth, if she could be taken off the tenancy agreement, but that didn’t happen.

After the meth testing McKenzie was given seven days’ written notice to leave the property, but he didn’t leave until five days later.

Wise Property Management and Fan applied to the tribunal for rent arrears, refund of the bond, water bills, lock and key replacement costs, $1,250 insurance excess for the meth decontamination and exemplary damages for unlawful use of the premises and failing to vacate the premises after termination.

While claiming she was not responsible for any of the landlord’s claims, tribunal adjudicator J. Northwood says although the woman did not use meth in the property nor stay beyond the end of the tenancy, and despite having every sympathy for her, the law was clear. “This was a joint tenancy and so there is joint and several liability. Both tenants are responsible for the debts incurred.”

Exemplary Damages

However, Northwood says the landlord can seek compensation from either one or both tenants and the woman can pursue any debt she incurs against McKenzie at the Disputes Tribunal.

The landlord was awarded exemplary damages of $500 because McKenzie failed to vacate the property on the date given.

Northwood said McKenzie was aware of the meth results, that the property was declared uninhabitable, and he had a hand-delivered letter advising of the tenancy termination and the date he must leave. Despite this, he remained at the property for another five days.

The effect on the landlord was that his arrangements to have the property decontaminated were put on hold. He had lined up several professional contractors to fix the property.

“As the tenant failed to leave the work had to be rescheduled and as a consequence the landlord was unable to remedy and re-tenant the property for some period,” Northwood said. “It is in the landlord’s and public interest that contaminated properties are remedied immediately.”

Exemplary damages of $600 were also awarded for McKenzie’s use of meth. “The consequences of meth use have been a significant cost to remedy and restore the property for the landlord. Furthermore, the landlord has lost rent while this process has been worked through,” Northwood said.

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