Man cuts off power to next door unit during dispute over power bill
Laura Dooney
22 March 2017

An ongoing dispute over a power bill has ended up in a Tenancy Tribunal hearing at the Wellington District Court.  Monique Ford  Fairfax NZ

A tenant stuck in the middle of a spat between the owners of two adjacent units in Wellington was told, via a note, that the power to her home was going to be cut off, as well as her hot water.

The tenant had no choice but to move out when that happened at the end of 2014. But the dispute between the owners of the two apartments continues.

The power remained cut to the unit for more than two years, and its owner Maggie Roeshaw is seeking damages for lost rent through the Tenancy Tribunal.

She is also seeking compensation from the building's body corporate for failing to prevent loss and damage to the unit.

A hearing got underway on Wednesday at the Wellington District Court.

The seeds of the saga were sown in the early 2000s, when Roeshaw bought a unit in the apartment block on The Terrace, as did the respondent in the case, Mike Pownall.

Fuse box feeding both units is in Pownall's unit

They later worked out the fuse box supplying electricity for both apartments was in Pownall's unit, and came to an agreement whereby Roeshaw paid $70 every four weeks to cover the cost of the bill.

In 2014, Pownall approached Roeshaw to ask if she could take a look at the unit to work out why the power bill was much higher than usual.

leaking tap in Roeshaw's unit, power bill unusually high

A leaking hot tap in her unit was eventually fixed, and Roeshaw received a bill for "quite a large amount of electricity".

Pownall said he investigated the cost of the excess electricity and found it to be more than $1000.

Pownall asks for half the costs, she says no

He asked Roeshaw for half the costs, half the cost for the investigation of both units to work out why so much electricity was being used, and for her to cover the cost of the plumber who fixed the leaky tap.

He said he attempted to sort the issue out with Roeshaw, who sought legal advice, saying she did not owe Pownall the money.

In October 2014, Pownall, an electrical engineer, told the tenant living in the apartment he would turn the power off, first to her plugs, then her lights. He would also stop the hot water going into the unit.

To turn off the lights, he changed the cabling arrangement in the power box, and to turn off the hot water, he got a plumber in to install a tap.

He agreed, during the hearing, that he knew the tenant would have no choice but to move out. He conceded there were other options he could have taken before cutting off the power.

Pownall was chair of the body corporate (condo board)

At the time the body corporate, of which Pownall was the chairperson, agreed that what happened was a dispute between two owners and nothing to do with the body corporate.

The hearing will continue at a later date.

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