4 Mar 2023

Jewellery business owner and son to pay $27,000 for unpaid rent, repairs, subletting house

8:31 pm on 4 March 2023

By Ethan Griffiths of Open Justice by NZ Herald

14588891 - rental agreement form with signing hand and keys and pen

Nick Hoogwerf and his mother Donna Miers have been ordered to pay almost $28,000 in repairs, unpaid rent, and exemplary damages. Photo: 123RF

A mother and son duo who rented a property only to later claim it wasn't suitable to be lived in unlawfully sublet it to another woman, charging her double the rent in the process.

Now the pair, who submitted false invoices from tradespeople as evidence, has been ordered to pay almost $28,000 in repairs, unpaid rent, and exemplary damages.

According to a Tenancy Tribunal decision, Auckland man Nick Hoogwerf and his mother Donna Miers - who owns online business Kagi Jewellers - entered into an agreement to buy the Pt Chevalier property in April last year with owner Don Oliver.

An agreement was made for the pair to rent the property until settlement, which was some months away. The pair paid a $1200 bond and signed the agreement in early May.

They soon began to raise issues, claiming the property did not meet Healthy Homes standards due to water ingress and a lack of insulation.

When the case ended up at the tribunal, they claimed they asked for documentation from Oliver proving the house was compliant but provided no evidence of this.

They further claimed there was mould in the bathroom and sodden floorboards near a fireplace.

"Photographs were provided by the tenants of these areas. I could not see any mould in these photographs," the tribunal adjudicator said.

The pair vacated the house on 1 July, claiming they were "forced out" by the mould. They paid rent until 8 July, while the tenancy agreement was scheduled to end in November.

The tribunal ruled there was not enough evidence to suggest the home did not comply with Healthy Home standards.

The pair also claimed there were no smoke alarms in the property, but provided no evidence of this.

Another claim alleged the landlord unlawfully entered the rental on three occasions in July and August - after they had left when they weren't paying rent.

The landlord admitted to entering the property once to install a lockbox, but was under the impression the real estate agent would inform Hoogwerf.

Due to this miscommunication, the tribunal chose to take no further action. There was insufficient evidence for the other two allegations.

Oliver claimed that by leaving the property the pair effectively did so without consent.

Hoogwerf later claimed that Oliver did not adequately remedy the issues raised - so, without permission, he and his mother stripped the flooring and replaced it with new flooring of their own.

They also removed a kitchen bench and support beam, and installed a new oven.

Earlier in the tenancy, the pair complained of multiple issues, including water dripping from a light switch, sodden floorboards and a lack of working electrical sockets. They pointed to a letter from their electrician, who said the wiring was flawed.

Oliver arranged for his electrician to visit the property as soon as possible, but the tenants arranged their own. Oliver paid the $180 invoice for the work.

They later raised further issues with the state of the property. They claim both the landlord and the real estate agent weren't responsive after sending texts, so arranged their own tradespeople to undertake work. They provided no evidence of contact with the landlord or agent.

A letter from Ray White to the tribunal confirmed that they did not have any communication from Hoogwerf about the supposed issues.

The tenants undertook a complete rewiring of the property. The landlord sought a report from another electrician on the quality of the work.

That report stated the work was not up to standard and wiring in one part of the house was "a mess".

Hoogwerf gave the tribunal an invoice worth $4612 from the electrical company he arranged to undertake the rewiring. He said the invoice was paid.

"I note that the copy of the invoice provided did not contain a date, and appeared to have a large whited-out area at the top of the invoice above the narrative about the detail of the work done," the tribunal adjudicator said.

Oliver contacted the business to check if the invoice was legitimate. The business confirmed their invoice totalled just $310.50.

It later transpired that the invoice was just an estimate, and Hoogwerf had never paid that amount, and the work detailed wasn't undertaken.

Instead, he used an apprentice electrician. Hoogwerf's claim to be reimbursed was dismissed, with the tribunal finding the invoice was "false and misleading".

"Eventually, Mr Hoogwerf conceded that he never followed through on the estimate from Fluent Electrician Limited and had not paid $4612 to them either."

After claiming the property wasn't up to standard for themselves, the tenants sublet the property to a woman, her adult daughter, and the daughter's baby.

Hoogwerf and Miers charged $1390 a week - around double the rent they were supposed to be paying themselves.

The tribunal ruled Hoogwerf and Miers were treating the property "like they already owned it".

Hoogwerf was not at the address when the Herald visited on Thursday but during a phone conversation, he would not answer questions about whether the order had been paid, before hanging up.

According to the Companies Office, Miers is the registered owner of Kagi Jewellery, an online business with a substantial social media following. Hoogwerf is the registered owner of four properties in Auckland.

Oliver told the Herald it had cost him almost $10,000 in legal bills to resolve the issue, and he is yet to see a cent of the money the pair were ordered to pay him.

"When I arrived at the house and found this woman there, I felt awful for her. I gave her 60 days to vacate the place rent-free," he said, referring to the other tenant.

"[Hoogwerf] was nothing but entitled.

"It's been a difficult process, but I just hope it is resolved by now."

In total, the tribunal ordered Hoogwerf and Miers pay $27,787, made up of $19,285 in unpaid rent from the point they left the property, $600 in exemplary damages for the unlawful subletting, $8342 in remedial work, and a further $39 for unpaid water rates.

On the part of Oliver, the tribunal found he did not file the bond with Tenancy Services in time, so ordered a $500 exemplary damages deduction from the total the tenants were ordered to pay.

Settlement of the sale has now occurred and Hoogwerf is the listed owner.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.