Relationship break-up not cause to end tenancy, tribunal says

Friday 23 August 2019

A tenant whose relationship broke up, leaving her struggling to pay the rent, should have seen the risk inherent in taking out a fixed-term tenancy, the Tenancy Tribunal has ruled.

Grace Little and James Fisher went to the tribunal seeking to terminate their tenancy and reduce their fixed-term tenancy on a property in St Albans, Christchurch, rented from Lotus Property Management.

The tribunal heard that Little and Fisher had broken up and it was traumatic and unexpected.

Fisher was on a holiday visa at the start of the tenancy and was in the process of applying for a work visa.

After the tenancy began, he applied for a partnership visa but the pair separated before that was granted.

He could not work during the tenancy and was supported by his family. Little was self-employed with irregular income and could not afford to pay the rent on her own.

Tenancy adjudicator R Armstrong said, while Little had no reason to think her relationship would end during the fixed-term tenancy, there was a risk of that in any relationship.

“Fisher’s immigration status and his inability to work in New Zealand, made their situation more precarious. In those circumstances, there was an obvious risk inherent in taking on the commitment of a fixed-term tenancy.

“In my view, this is not the type of situation where the Tribunal should intervene to end the tenancy early under section 66 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act). The events that caused the breakup were not foreseen but difficulties with payment of the rent were readily foreseeable.”

But the tenants had also served a breach notice on the landlord, requiring it to carry out repairs to windows and doors in the premises, which proved to be another way out of the fixed-term, which had been meant to end in February next year.

Little said the house was draughty, damp and cold.

The landlord had taken no steps to comply with the notice.

Armstrong amended the tenancy application to include a claim for termination of the tenancy on the grounds the breach notice had not been complied with.

The landlord did not appear at the hearing.

“I am satisfied that the landlord has breached their obligations by failing to provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair," Armstrong said.

“The tenant served a 14-day notice on the landlord on June 4, 2019, and the landlord did not remedy the breach within the required period.

“It would be inequitable to refuse to terminate the tenancy because the breach is serious and has had a substantial adverse effect on the tenant. The premises are difficult and very expensive to keep warm and dry. I have therefore terminated the tenancy and returned possession of the premises to the landlord.”

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