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Warning for landlords in huge Harcourts fine

The Timaru District Court has handed down a hefty fine to Harcourts Timaru for rental property safety failings – leaving an investor advocate to urge caution on the part of landlords.

Wednesday, March 25th 2015, 12:00AM

by Miriam Bell

Harcourts Timaru has been fined $55,000 and ordered to pay $12,500 reparation for breaches of the Gas Act 1992 and the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Act 2006.

The agency failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of gas appliances and fittings when leasing out a property. It also engaged a person, Crew Cut franchisee Larry Warner, who was not authorised to do gas fitting.

Warner was sentenced to 200 hours community work and required to pay $2000 reparation for doing the unauthorised work.

In 2014, Harcourts Timaru employed Warner to remove a gas heater from a rental property they managed, but he left the gas supply uncapped. The day after a new tenant moved in and got new gas cylinders, the tenant noticed a strong smell of gas.

A WorkSafe Energy Safety investigation revealed that about 35kgs of gas had leaked into the house. It also emerged that Warner was not authorised to do gas fitting work.

Energy Safety’s compliance officer Richard Lamb says the agency operates under a national brand and should have known better.

“Always use an appropriately qualified person to do gas and electrical work on any property. All landlords, including property managers, have a duty to ensure the safety of gas and electrical installations, appliances and fittings in properties they lease.”

New Zealand Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King says the fine was particularly high but the sentence seemed reasonable given the agency did use an unqualified person to do the work.

“It can be hard for landlords to know who is appropriately qualified to do certain types of work. The onus of proof should be on the person who is providing the service.”

However, the sentence should serve as a huge warning to rental property owners – especially if they manage their own properties, King says.

“Landlords need to make sure that they maintain their properties safely and well. They also need to do their utmost to make sure they use appropriately qualified trade and service people.”

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