Fire leaves landlord thousands of dollars out of pocket

A tenant in New Zealand on a fixed term visa appears to have fled the country after setting fire to the house he was renting.

Hoang van Pham left after owing the landlord, who has name suppression, $16,222 in rent arrears and $550 insurance excess from fire damage. He had a one-year fixed term tenancy and four months later had set fire to the property’s roof, while cultivating cannabis. 

An application was made by the landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal for tenancy termination and payment of the rent arrears and insurance excess for the fire more than two months after Pham abandoned the rental.

The landlord did not discover what happened for some time. It was only when he turned up at the rental to cut down some trees, he was surprised to find the front door unlocked and wide open and no one at home. He noticed extensive fire damage to the roof and went inside to check if everyone was alright. He found drug cultivation equipment in the bedrooms where the fire had broken out.

The landlord, who had a Mandarin interpreter during the tribunal hearing, says he initially made contact with the tenant on his mobile phone number and Pham agreed to pay for the damage but has not, nor has he paid an earlier tribunal order for $8,062.85 in rent arrears. All the landlord has recovered is the $2,720 bond. He is now owed a total of $14,073.

The landlord tried to find Pham’s location to enforce the earlier order for rent arrears but that has been fruitless. He believes Pham may have left New Zealand as his immigration status only allowed him to stay in the country for a fixed term that may have expired.

The landlord’s evidence satisfied adjudicator M Pollak that he made all reasonable efforts to serve the notice of the tribunal hearing and other documents on the Pham.

“The landlord also provided evidence that extensive fire damage was caused by the deliberate negligence of the tenant and such damage was foreseeable by the tenant when he chose to cultivate illegal drugs on the premises. He also verbally accepted responsibility for the damage.”

She granted termination of the tenancy immediately as the rent is in arrears and the premises abandoned. They have been repaired and new tenants moved in.

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