Wedco tenant wins reduction in damages
A West End Development Corporation tenant has won a reduction in the damages she was ordered to pay the quango in rent arrears.
Carla Crockwell was told to pay Wedco $12,321 in March 2015 after protracted legal proceedings spanning more than two years.
Ms Crockwell launched an appeal against the order and represented herself in Supreme Court.
She disputed liability for the figure, claiming accounting errors had been made from 1997 and that she was unaware she was potentially liable for collection fees and late charges.
Ms Crockwell also claimed that rent increases imposed by Wedco were unlawful and that she was entitled to withhold rent because of a breach of Wedco’s repairing obligations.
During her initial trial at Magistrates’ Court, Ms Crockwell was found liable to pay what she admitted in evidence that she had failed to pay.
She had told the court: “At the end of the day, looking at the accounts, I would say I owe about nine and a half months’ rent at $1,338.75 considering the circumstances of Wedco’s accounting errors.
“I thought I could claim for them but I couldn’t because basically they were time-barred. It wasn’t my intention not to pay the rent. I was seeking for an injustice that was served on me by the landlord to no avail.”
In Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley reduced the damages figure to take into account Wedco’s failure for repair to the external railings of her property for five years.
“The landlord was in breach of its repairing covenants,” the Chief Justice said. “If any such breach which was more than trivial was established by the tenant, she was entitled to an award of damages.
“It follows that the appellant was entitled to an award of damages for the landlord’s breach of covenant over a period of five years based on a rough and ready assessment of the reduction in value of the premises to a tenant flowing from the landlord’s breach of covenant.”
Mr Justice Kawaley added: “The appeal against the decision of the Magistrates’ Court fails in part and succeeds in part.
“The decision to enter judgment in favour of the respondent in the amount of $12,321.97 is affirmed. The decision to refuse to award the appellant any damages for breach of the landlord’s covenant to keep the exterior of the premises in tenantable condition over a period of five years is set aside and the appellant is awarded $8,028.
“The final result in financial terms is that the respondent has been awarded in net terms approximately a third of its original claim at trial and the appellant has achieved substantial success, effectively extinguishing two thirds, of the respondent’s claim, on her appeal.”