A tenant has been ordered to pay her landlord $5000 for damage caused by her dog (not the dog pictured) including that it dug up the lawn until there was “virtually no lawn left”. Photo / 123rf
A dog that dug up the lawn of a rental home until “virtually no lawn was left” has left it’s owner with a $5000 bill.
But that’s not the only trouble the dog caused; the smell of urine and faeces inside the Christchurch home was so bad the landlord had to remove the “relatively new” carpet and replace it.
The Tenancy Tribunal has now ordered the dog’s owner Aleisha Louise Te Kapa to pay Bright Property Management Limited $5009 to help repair and clean the rental home.
The total amount payable was almost $7000 but came down to $5000 less the bond. The amount included $1700 in rent arrears, $3300 to replace the carpet and $476 to repair the lawn.
The head of an organisation which represented the interests of renters said it was an example of an extreme case, when last year only 0.2 per cent of renters appeared in the tribunal for cases involved in recovering damage done to a rental property, and landlords needed to show more flexibility around pets.
Renters United president Geordie Rogers told NZME landlords needed to show more flexibility around pets.
He said the organisation “firmly believed” that people renting a property had the right to a decent home, which included being able to set down roots, build networks with their community, and start a family – whatever that looked like for them.
“When a landlord rents out a home they are trading the ability to dictate the use of that property for rental income.
“At that point, while it remains the landlord’s property, it becomes the renter’s home,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the organisation’s “Plan to Fix Renting” included a proposal which made it easier for tenants to have pets, which would serve to provide a more stable home environment for renters.
“They need to be able to make themselves feel at home, which includes being able to have pets.
“Allowing renters to have it is just human decency,” Rogers said.
He said the risks to a landlord of allowing a pet in a rental were covered by the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) and that renters had always been liable for damage to a property, either by them, someone else, or a pet.
The rental agency which managed the property, Bright Property Management declined to comment, but the New Zealand Property Investors Federation, which was the umbrella body for 17 local Property Investors’ Associations throughout New Zealand, said the thorny topic of pets in rentals was something they had been trying to sort for years.
Vice president Peter Lewis told NZME landlords were often branded as “hating pets” but despite efforts to alleviate the matter the law prevented them from being able to protect themselves from any extra damage caused by pets.
Lewis said they had lobbied for a law change that would allow landlords to introduce a “pet bond” which was not allowed under New Zealand tenancy law.
Lewis said allowing pets in a rental increased the landlord’s liability for damage, but under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords were prohibited from increasing their protection against damage caused by pets.
“By allowing pets, it increased the risk of damage, but legislation prohibits us from protecting ourselves against the risk.
“We have lobbied for years for change, but got nowhere,” Lewis said.
He was the owner of rental properties himself, one of which he allowed the tenants to have a dog because the property was well suited to accommodating one, including that it was fenced.
He had also spent days, and thousands of dollars re-wallpapering another of his properties after a cat had scratched it beyond repair.
Lewis was also critical of inconsistencies in the tribunal’s rulings over damage caused by pets following recent rulings.
“If a landlord knowingly allows pets on a property, then it’s almost a given they’re to expect damage, but if a pet bond could be charged so that risk was reduced, then landlords would be more amenable to allowing pets.”
The law said that tenants could not “carelessly or intentionally damage premises”, including that caused by pets, but the onus was on the landlord to prove it was more than fair wear and tear, in order to recover compensation.
Where the damage was caused carelessly, and was covered by the landlord’s insurance, the tenant’s liability was limited to the lesser of the insurance excess or four weeks’ rent (or four weeks’ market rent in the case of a tenant paying income-related rent).
Where the damage was careless and was not covered by the landlord’s insurance, the tenant’s liability was limited to four weeks’ rent (or market rent).
In the case of the Christchurch rental property, the carpet throughout the premises was stained with dog urine and in some places dog faeces, and there was a strong smell of urine throughout the home.
The landlord had the carpets professionally cleaned, but it did not remove the odour, and the advice was to it needed replacing.
In this case, the tribunal found that the carpet damage was intentional and the tenant could have avoided it by managing the dog.
“The occasional accident would not have been intentional and would not have resulted in the carpet being written off. It is the extent of the damage that makes it intentional in the sense that the tenant failed to take action to avoid it,” the tribunal said.
The tenant was unable to disprove liability for damage to “multiple” walls, nor the “extensive” damage to the lawn which required the landlord to employ a gardener who re-sowed it.
The New Zealand Property Investors Federation said while many landlords had a standard “no pets” approach when advertising for tenants, they were also negotiable, particularly when they knew how to protect themselves with a good pet clause.
They advised talking to the tenant and if a pet was allowed to stay, at least have this condition included in the tenancy agreement.