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Tenant’s belongings dumped after vanishing with $3000 owing in rent

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Former tenant James Maxwell appears to have vanished, leaving property managers to dispose of his possessions. Photo / Nelson Weekly

Tenant James Maxwell seems to have vanished.

The Nelson man was living in a $500-a-week three-bedroom rental in Richmond but was given notice to vacate earlier this year. Maxwell in return gave notice and disappeared, leaving behind his belongings and what was described as “badly soiled carpets”.

Today property managers Michelle Ouellette and a relative newcomer to the industry, Jody Bly, found themselves at the Tenancy Tribunal, tying up loose ends around an abrupt end to Maxwell’s time at the address.

The property managers told adjudicator Michael Brennan they were not only wanting to secure the bond for the landlord, in lieu of almost $3000 in unpaid rent, but were also seeking an order for costs to help cover unpaid water bills, the cleaning of the carpets, and hireage of a large skip for the removal of rubbish – including furniture and computer equipment left behind.

Property managers Michelle Ouellette (left) and Jody Bly outside the Nelson District Court after they appeared before the Tenancy Tribunal over an abandoned rental. Photo / Tracy Neal
Property managers Michelle Ouellette (left) and Jody Bly outside the Nelson District Court after they appeared before the Tenancy Tribunal over an abandoned rental. Photo / Tracy Neal

Missing upon inspection were two 9kg gas bottles, but it was not clear if Maxwell had removed them.

He failed to show up at today’s hearing, and so couldn’t answer.

Ouellette and Bly explained they had tried to track him down, including via his former landscaping business in Nelson, and the address for service which was still listed online.

Open Justice tried reaching Maxwell by phoning him on the number listed which went through to a former administrator who regretted not being able to remove it.

“I get about 8000 calls a day looking for him, but I don’t think he’s in Nelson any longer,” she told Open Justice.

A search on social media showed Maxwell claimed to now work for a local landscape firm.

The director of this firm said this was no longer the case, and he believed Maxwell had left the country.

Ouellette said she always had to consider a tenant’s personal situation when they stop paying rent and just left.

“It might be a sad situation – we just don’t know.”

The tribunal heard today that the tenancy on the Richmond home ended in June this year.

The property managers told Brennan that prior to this Maxwell had been given notice to vacate, and a formal application had been made to the tribunal to assist with the process.

Maxwell then gave notice, and disappeared.

His belongings were eventually taken to the dump after the property managers were unable to reach him. The cost of disposing of them is now being sought as a reimbursement.

Today’s hearing was one of about 20,000 cases the Tenancy Tribunal holds around the country each year. Chasing down missing tenants and unpaid rent is just part of the job.

Ouellette, a French-Canadian, has been a property manager in Nelson for five years and was now the division manager for Ray White Property Management.

Bly began in the industry just seven months ago and said it was nothing like she imagined.

“I moved here from Kapiti – I came here with my partner and I thought property managing could be really interesting, but I thought it would be different to what it is.”

Bly said it was by no means glamorous and there was far more work done behind the scenes than most might think.

They said they weren’t often left with an abandoned household; the bigger challenge often was managing tenants’ expectations, when their primary function was to represent the property owner.

Ouellette said safety protocols for property managers had been tightened since the violent deaths of mother and daughter property managers in Northland in 2017.

Teamwork was paramount, no one went alone to a property if they felt unsure, and if they did, they were to leave right away.

She said the good news for renters was that the dip in the housing market meant more homes were coming back on the rental market, as owners struggled to sell or to get the prices they wanted.

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