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“They can’t be trusted”: The mother and son leaving a trail of court judgments and unpaid debt

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A year-long NZME investigation into the actions mother and son due Donna Miers and Nick Hoogwerf has revealed a growing list of grievances from unhappy tenants, landlords and customers. The questionable conduct has resulted in numerous hearings, unpaid court orders and a police complaint into an alleged act of forgery. Ethan Griffiths reports.

At 21, Nick Hoogwerf was a fresh face in Ray White Parnell’s office.

He’d long held a passion for property, beginning to build his portfolio in his late teens. Now in his mid-twenties, Hoogwerf owns three properties, while a company he is the sole director of owns two.

His passion extended into a career, studying and registering as a real estate agent and taking the job with Ray White. But within months his newfound career was crumbling before his eyes.

“I know I’ve done something wrong, but not sure what is happening now,” he texted the seller of a property he was attempting to purchase for himself in November 2021.

In the following weeks, the vendor filed a complaint about Hoogwerf to the Real Estate Authority.

Hoogwerf had forged a professional property valuation he was required to obtain in order to purchase the property.

Over a period of hours he didn’t send a single forged document but four, after the vendor kept querying blatant mistakes including the wrong address, photos of a different property, the wrong agency and the wrong vendor.

Late last year, almost exactly two years after the conduct, the disciplinary process finished. The tribunal’s charge was proven and he was banned from practising for five years.

But just seven days after being found guilty, he was forging again.

An NZME investigation into the actions of Hoogwerf and his mother Donna Miers has uncovered even more questionable conduct, including aggrieved customers of their family business, landlords and tenants left out of pocket, and another alleged act of forgery that now sits with the police.

Good enough for thee, not for me

NZME’s investigation into Hoogwerf and Miers began twelve months ago when a Tenancy Tribunal judgment appeared online.

The pair had been ordered to pay more than $30,000 to Auckland retiree Don Oliver after renting his Pt Chevalier property, “renovating” the interior without permission, and then subletting the property at double the rent to a vulnerable grandmother – all without Oliver’s knowledge.

“It was unbelievable,” Oliver said. “I showed up one day to find a stranger living in my house.”

The case has been well-traversed in previous reporting. Both Hoogwerf and Miers initially entered into a purchase agreement for the property in May 2022, but rented it from Oliver until settlement some months later.

But the tenancy was “nothing but a headache” for Oliver. The pair immediately began raising issues, claiming the property didn’t meet Healthy Home standards and was riddled with mould.

And then, despite not owning the property yet, the pair removed a kitchen bench and support beam, laid new flooring, installed a new oven and shoddily rewired the home.

Soon after, they ditched it. They claimed in the tribunal that they were “forced out” by the property’s condition.

While the home wasn’t good enough for them, the pair then happily rented it out to a grandmother desperate for a place to live. They charged her $1390 per week – double the rent they were paying themselves.

The Pt Chevalier property unlawfully sublet by Nick Hoogwerf and Donna Miers. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
The Pt Chevalier property unlawfully sublet by Nick Hoogwerf and Donna Miers. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Oliver later discovered the sub-letting arrangement and went to the tribunal. “I felt awful for [the unwitting tenant]. I gave her 60 days to vacate the place rent-free.”

In Oliver’s tribunal hearing, Hoogwerf and Miers tried to prove the house didn’t meet Healthy Homes standards. They also lodged an ‘invoice’ of supposed improvements as evidence, seeking reimbursement.

None of it flew with the tribunal adjudicator, who found the supposed ‘invoice’ had a “whited out” area. It turned out it was false.

The pair were ordered to pay Oliver $27,787, plus $4,907 of Oliver’s legal costs. Months passed before the money finally arrived, Oliver says.

Oliver said “they came across as genuine” but he believed “they can’t be trusted.”

“The process was painful from start to finish.”

In a call with NZME, Hoogwerf rubbished the tribunal’s findings and alleged people involved in the case had mental illnesses, before hanging up.

In the days after reporting on the findings, others who had launched claims in court against the pair began airing their concerns.

Meanwhile, Hoogwerf and Miers contracted an esteemed Auckland public relations firm to handle NZME’s questions – while other alleged victims, some who claimed to be out of pocket by thousands, sat around empty-handed.

The unwelcome visitors

While Hoogwerf owns multiple properties, Miers has her own portfolio too.

One of those is a Herne Bay property where Sam* lived. The dwelling had seven bedrooms, advertised at $1500 a week plus $20 per person for expenses. Sam and his flatmates paid a $6000 bond.

The group had only been in the new flat for a few weeks when there was a knock at the door. They say the visitor was angry and looking for Miers.

Sam told the visitor he couldn’t help him and brushed it off. That was until he got another knock at the door a few weeks later. “This guy showed up asking for Nick. He asked if he lived there, saying he’d brought something and been blocked.”

He says he later learnt his flatmates had opened the door to other disgruntled visitors too – some from online sales Hoogwerf had made, others with disputes with Miers. They were the first red flags in what turned out to be a torrid tenancy.

During his first few days, Sam also learnt Hoogwerf and Miers lived at the same address in a dwelling below. Miers would eat her breakfast on the flat’s deck – an agreement Sam says was made after moving in.

Despite being in one of the country’s richest suburbs, the property wasn’t flash.

Donna Miers. Photo / Facebook
Donna Miers. Photo / Facebook

“Pretty much after viewing it, she said it was ours,” Sam told NZME. But the tenants soon began raising issues. “It was freezing during the winter, all of the window frames had mould around them, and there was no heating whatsoever in the house.”

“As soon as we messaged [Donna], she’d ignore it. We wouldn’t hear from her again until she wanted us to do something,” Sam claimed.

He says Miers promised a heat pump would be installed by winter. That then changed to “two heaters” by winter, and by the time winter was halfway done, Miers finally installed a lone panel heater.

Sam says the house was never Healthy Homes compliant, something he raised with Miers often with no response. He also raised concerns about their bond, which was never lodged with Tenancy Services.

“She said it wasn’t possible to lodge it because it was held in multiple different accounts, whatever that means.”

At the end of the tenancy, Sam and his flatmates tried to get their bond back. Five months passed and Miers still hadn’t refunded the bond, so the group took a case to the Tenancy Tribunal. Miers never showed up.

The adjudicator said Miers had clearly attempted to avoid the question of the bond. “The landlord has acted in a grossly irresponsible manner,” the adjudicator ruled.

The tribunal also found Miers had failed to make repairs to the property. “Repeated requests for maintenance and heating have either gone answered or dealt with inadequately.”

Ironically, the tribunal also found the property was not Healthy Homes compliant – the same gripe Miers had claimed about Don Oliver’s property.

Ultimately the tribunal found Miers guilty of four ‘unlawful acts’ – ordering the full repayment of the bond and $1200 in exemplary damages.

Miers’ PR agency spokesperson refused to answer questions on the matter, “out of respect to the former tenants” – tenants that still haven’t been paid the $7200 they are owed.

The group has launched proceedings in the District Court to recover the sum.

The Kagi complaints

Before property, Hoogwerf’s passion was jewellery.

In his teens he founded a small jewellery brand In The Window. He told Three’s lifestyle show The Cafe in 2017 that he discovered his love for the trade at a school holiday programme in his preteens.

In 2018 his mother purchased the well-known Kiwi jewellery business Kagi, which at its height was turning over millions annually. In 2011 it was named in Deloitte’s Fast 50 as one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing brands.

“Donna is a devoted Mum who wants nothing more than to make her son’s dreams become a reality,” Kagi posted to its Facebook page in May 2018, announcing the mother and son as the new owners.

“Through Kagi, she is helping Nick follow his love of creating and designing jewellery as well as embarking on a new adventure together.”

Miers serves as sole director, while Hoogwerf was a former shareholder. Hoogwerf still has some involvement, having filed the company’s latest annual return.

These days the business is still live, but some online links no longer work and social media engagement has dried up. That’s excluding comment sections, which have seen many disgruntled customers airing their complaints.

Over previous months, NZME has spoken to customers of Kagi who have raised disputes. One paid for an item but says they never received it. At least three others claim the company was “impossible to contact” when their purchase never showed up.

NZME has spoken to two customers who say they were blocked from Kagi’s social media pages after commenting that they were owed refunds.

While Kagi denies intentionally removing any comments from social media, NZME has watched some comments disappear hours after they’re posted. The comments share a common theme; people who have placed orders but never been sent goods, or sent incorrect items. Some online comments do remain.

One customer, whom NZME has agreed not to name, was owed a sum under $40 by the business after ordering a product and being sent an inferior item. She returned it, but says her repeated attempts to be reimbursed fell on deaf ears until she mentioned she was speaking to a reporter.

The issues are likely wider than the handful of customers spoken to for this report; in March last year the Commerce Commission confirmed it had received six complaints about the business.

Kagi jewellery. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Kagi jewellery. Photo / Mark Mitchell

By October that number had ballooned to 28 individual enquiries, relating to a “range of alleged issues under the Fair Trading Act, including alleged delivery and refund issues,” a spokesperson said.

The Commerce Commission has not launched an investigation. It says it spoke to a Kagi representative in both February 2022 and September last year, reminding the company of its legal obligations.

NZME asked questions of Miers and received a response from the PR agency.

“As a small business, we acknowledge that, at times, customer concerns may not have been resolved within the expected timeframe or, because of other factors present at the time, may not have resulted in the anticipated outcome, for which we apologise.”

The business says the 28 Commerce Commission complaints represent “less than 0.1 per cent” of total sales over the last four years, although 22 of the 28 complaints were lodged in just seven months. They say most issues related to Covid-19 supply chain issues and no returns are outstanding.

While Kagi has been accused of questionable business practices by customers, the complaints aren’t limited to the company. Hoogwerf himself has had one case of blocking a person on Facebook who paid a sum in the hundreds of dollars for an item advertised on the platform’s marketplace.

This buyer went to the Disputes Tribunal, with the referee saying in his decision obtained by NZME that “Hoogwerf’s sale had the appearance of a scam.” The buyer was eventually repaid.

The forged form

Jamie Stuart had been renting a small apartment on Auckland’s North Shore since 2019, one of multiple dwellings at the address. His landlord sold up to Hoogwerf in mid-2023, and the young investor decided to continue with existing tenants.

But before Stuart had even met the man, he says Hoogwerf raised his rent by $210 a week.

Unwilling to pay the increase, Stuart began to hunt for a new home. He successfully found another place and arranged to meet Nick for a final inspection. The inspection never went ahead – Hoogwerf claimed he was stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it. Messages asking for the return of his $1160 bond went unanswered.

So Stuart rang up Tenancy Services, where the bond was lodged, asking that it be released.

“But then they told me it was gone, that I’d already signed a document releasing it”.

They gave him a copy of a document, showing where he had filled out his name, email address and signature – and ticked the box confirming the bond would be released in full to the landlord.

“The problem was I never signed a thing,” Stuart claimed.

The only explanation in his mind was obvious. He believes the document was forged.

NZME has seen the form. Similarly to the forged valuation in Hoogwerf’s Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal case, it is riddled with errors. Stuart’s name is spelt ‘Stewart’ and his email address is wrong.

He took his case to the Tenancy Tribunal and won, with the adjudicator ruling Hoogwerf had forged the form. The adjudicator suggested in his decision that Stuart lay a complaint with the police, and he did.

No charges have been laid, but Stuart understands the investigation remains ongoing.

Tenancy Services head of tenancy Katie Gordon said while the department doesn’t typically comment on individual cases, the public interest in the case outweighed the need to withhold the information.

While she confirmed the body had investigated Hoogwerf around an unrelated tenancy in the past, it received no complaints on the forged bond form. Gordon said it is considering whether further action should be taken.

“Tenancy Bond Services process a large volume of bond lodgement and bond refund applications; for example last year approximately 179,265 bond lodgements and 180,821 bond refunds were processed,”

“In the current process, signature matching is a key part of verifying the authenticity of bond refund forms; comparing signatures with those provided when the bond was lodged. Other data points are also considered, to reduce the risk of refunds being paid out to the wrong recipient.”

The department has a range of powers including issuing formal warnings, enforceable undertakings, improvement notices and infringement notices.

“In the most serious cases, the team may decide to take proceedings against a landlord in the Tenancy Tribunal.”

When the PR agency acting for Hoogwerf and Miers was approached with questions, they confirmed they were no longer working for the pair and directed all questions to Miers. The questions went unanswered.

Hoogwerf also faced other action in the Tenancy Tribunal earlier last year, after he failed to return the bond in another tenancy. The adjudicator ruled it be released immediately.

Hoogwerf’s spokesperson, which at the time remained the PR agency, declined to comment on this case “out of respect to the former tenants”.

The attempted real estate forgery

According to property records, Hoogwerf is the registered owner of three Auckland properties, while a business he solely directs owns a home in the Taranaki town of Eltham and another in Dunedin.

He registered as a licensed real estate agent in April 2021 before taking a job with Ray White Parnell.

Hoogwerf visited an Auckland property with an eye to buying it for his own portfolio. As an agent, the vendors signed a consent form allowing Hoogwerf to acquire an interest in the property.

It essentially meant Hoogwerf could bid on the property, but for the consent form to be valid Hoogwerf needed to supply the vendors with a registered valuation of the property.

He was the highest bidder at auction, offering $1.526m for the home. He paid a deposit of $50,000.

Nick Hoogwerf was found guilty of disgraceful conduct at a hearing of the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal. Photo / LinkedIn
Nick Hoogwerf was found guilty of disgraceful conduct at a hearing of the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal. Photo / LinkedIn

A day after the auction, on October 27, Hoogwerf told the vendor he was having trouble finding a valuer with the time to complete a report. He claimed a valuer had told him he could send through photos and they would do a physical inspection from the roadside.

The supposed valuation report was sent by Hoogwerf to the vendor on November 9, containing a plethora of inaccuracies. The vendor raised their concerns directly and Hoogwerf told him he would get the valuer to amend the report.

Back-and-forth contact over a period of four hours ensued. That same afternoon Hoogwerf sent the new version, which still contained errors. On the same day still, he sent a third version and, after more concerns, a fourth.

All four copies contained errors ranging from incomplete sections, references to the wrong vendors and even photos of a completely different property. The vendor became suspicious, referring the reports to the listing agency who queried the report’s authenticity with the valuation firm.

The valuation report was confirmed as illegitimate. The purchase agreement was pulled and the home was resold for exactly $1.5 million. Hoogwerf was repaid less than half of his deposit, footing the $26,000 price difference himself.

Two charges of misconduct were laid in the Real Estate Agent’s Disciplinary Tribunal (READT), and Hoogwerf admitted them.

“I feel deep regret and guilt for my wrongdoing which was ultimately the result of the pressure I felt in this transaction as a 21-year-old, newly licensed individual,” he said in a letter to the tribunal.

“I have felt self-accusation and shame since the incident and this is not anything I would ever repeat.”

The tribunal issued its findings on the charge on September 25 last year. Just seven days later Hoogwerf purported to be his tenant Jamie Stuart, in the forged document filed with Tenancy Services on October 2.

The tribunal’s penalty findings were released in late November, where Hoogwerf was barred from working in the industry for five years, censured and ordered to pay $14,496 in costs.

Hoogwerf had little engagement with the tribunal. The chair said his remorse wasn’t sincere, and no apology or explanation was forthcoming.

“We have no confidence he has learned anything from this complaint.”

*Name changed to comply with suppression orders.

Ethan Griffiths covers crime and justice stories nationwide for Open Justice. He joined NZME in 2020, previously working as a regional reporter in Whanganui and South Taranaki.

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