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Foxton landlord seeks appeal in soiled carpet case

Warwick Smith/Fairfax NZ

The landlord is appealing a Tenancy Tribunal decision that found the tenant of this Foxton house was not liable for the cost of replacing the carpet after her dogs defecated on it – despite a no-pets policy.

 A Tenancy Tribunal decision that found a tenant did not have to pay for the damage caused by her dogs urinating throughout a house, is being appealed.

Foxton landlord David Russ said he had filed a district court appeal against the decision that tenant Amanda Stewart was not liable for $3000 worth of damage caused by her pets, despite there being a ‘no pets’ policy on their tenancy agreement.

The Foxton house at the centre of the dispute stank of animal urine and the contamination was such that the carpets had to be replaced, according to a cleaning business.

A roll of stained carpet removed from the house.

Warwick Smith

A roll of stained carpet removed from the house.

 “I don’t want to be in this situation but … there’s consequences outside of my own case,” Russ said. “It opens the door to all sorts of problems down the track.”

Russ’ case will be heard by the Palmerston North District Court in early December.

Fitzherbert Rowe associate Liam Hehir said the matter raises potentially interesting legal issues around the definition of intentional and unintentional damage in light of the recent OSaki case.

In April, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of a couple, the Osakis, who were pursued by their landlord’s insurer for the cost of a house fire, caused by an untended pot on the stove. This decision resulted in new tribunal guidelines for establishing if a tenant was liable for damages.

Hehir said the appeal from Russ could potentially be influential.

As one of the first decisions to apply the tribunal’s Osaki practice note, it would help set how the Osaki case is applied in future.

New Zealand law came from decisions made in lower courts being appealed in higher courts, setting a precedent to be followed in future cases. Eventually enough were set to form a coherent and consistent body of law, Hehir said.

“Because the Osaki decision and the tribunal practice note are still fresh a general principal has been established, but the courts still have to determine how it applies in various circumstances.”

Tenacy.co.nz director Scotney Williams said the Foxton case was an example of competing definitions of intentional damage.

The tribunal decided there was no evidence Stewart specifically set out to damage the carpet, however Russ argued the damage was a direct result of a decision to break the tenancy agreement.

Williams hoped Russ’ appeal would help set a more concrete measure for when damage could be considered unintentional.

Manawatu Tenants Union manager Kevin Reilly said his basic advice for tenants remained the same; take out renters’ insurance, take photos of the condition of the house when you move in, document everything in case there is a dispute and remember if you breach the tenancy agreement, you can be evicted.

 – Stuff