Advice and Opinion

"Crafty" Landlords and Rental Disputes

A rental dispute where he was asked to step in and help, has shown again that ruthless landlords can avoid being held accountable by the Rental Tribunal Board if they issue their tenants with a summons early on in the dispute, says Bill Rawson, Chairman of the Rawson Property Group.

In the case referred to, a ‘crafty’ landlord, says Rawson, got the tenant to sign a lease in which there was no agreed lease period.

The landlord then set about finding a tenant who would be prepared to pay 20% more than the current rental — although the Rental Housing Tribunal Board allows a maximum increase of only 12% — and when he was successful in this he gave the existing tenant notice. On her objecting, the landlord immediately issued her with an eviction notice and a court summons.

When she appealed to the Rental Tribunal Board about this high-handed action, she was told that their hands were tied because the court summons had already been issued. To make matters worse, although she had maintained the property exceptionally well, the landlord only refunded her half of her deposit, claiming that he did not have the available cash on hand — breaking the stipulations of the Rental Housing Act. Later he did repay 60% of the deposit as the tenant vacated and offered to return the balance at the end of the month. The act, however, requires full payment with interest to be paid within seven days — in this case no interest was offered. Now the distressed tenant will be forced to take time off from work in order to lodge a complaint. She might even have to apply for additional leave thereafter to sort the problem out.

The big danger of such situations, says Rawson, is that to stand up against the landlord in court, the tenant will probably have to hire a lawyer, which many, particularly those in the lower income groups, simply cannot afford.

“The lesson we have to learn from this very unfortunate case,” he says, “is that it is absolutely essential to inform the board the moment a problem arises, thereby enabling them to act before a court summons is issued. In this case, justice will eventually be achieved and compensation as well as the full deposit will be repaid to the tenant, but there seems little chance of reinstating her in the property which is now being rented out to another tenant.”

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