07 June 2017

The Tenancy Tribunal has ordered Prime Property Group Limited to pay back $6900 of rent, exemplary damages of $600, and the $20 filing fee to tenants after an investigation by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team into their property at 61 Molesworth Street.

“The building at 61 Molesworth Street in Wellington was damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake, resulting in an evacuation that led to suspicions people were living in the building,” says National Manager Tenancy Compliance & Investigations Steve Watson.

“MBIE’s Tenancy Compliance & Investigations Team immediately began investigating the property given its known use as a commercial premises, and discovered a family had been living there since June 2016.”

In its application to the Tribunal in March 2017, MBIE sought an order on behalf of the tenant against Prime Property Group Limited, stating the tenancy was prohibited under the Act because the building could not lawfully be used for residential purposes.

“Regardless of the landlord’s intentions, charging $300 a week to live in an office space is unlawful. It is a prime example of taking advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable position,” says Mr Watson.

“The exemplary damages cost reflects the extent of the health and safety risks faced by the tenants, and the fact that the landlord should have known better.

“This decision sends a strong message to landlords that the penalties are high if you are caught renting commercial property to tenants.”

Due to the building’s earth-quake prone status, investigators could not enter to establish whether the Landlord was compliant with the smoke alarm requirements that became law on 1 July 2016.

The 61 Molesworth Street building has since been demolished.

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