In an intriguing legal quagmire, Chandler Investments Limited, a New Zealand landlord, found itself in an uphill battle to extract $900 from its tenant, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. The dispute arose after the embassy vacated a rented mews house in Wellington without settling the expenses for cleaning, rubbish removal, and key cutting.
However, the New Zealand tenancy tribunal rendered a decision that invoked the shield of diplomatic immunity, extinguishing the landlord’s claim. The tribunal’s records from September proclaimed, “Here the claim is filed against the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in New Zealand. It must follow that the claim is, in fact, a claim against a state, the People’s Republic of China.”
Rex Woodhouse, the adjudicator, established that the agreement between the landlord and the tenant diverged from the customary safeguards provided to landlords in New Zealand. Sovereign immunity exceptions typically cover commercial disputes, yet in this case, the tribunal held that renting a residential dwelling to an embassy wasn’t deemed a commercial endeavor, as it was considered “incidental to the daily life of the diplomat,” and no profit was garnered from the arrangement.
Chris Chandler, the landlord, expressed his bewilderment at this turn of events, emphasizing that the financial sum of NZ$960 (AU$900) would likely be insignificant to the Chinese mission. Interestingly, the embassy’s representative seemed uninformed about Chandler’s claims.
Frustrated by this unexpected outcome, Chandler declared his reluctance to rent properties to embassies in the future, and he mentioned that this sentiment was also shared by his property manager and other colleagues in the same area.
This situation isn’t the first of its kind in New Zealand, as a previous dispute in 2018 advised landlords to reconsider renting to diplomats. In that instance, Eva Tvarozkova, the deputy head of mission for the EU’s delegation in New Zealand, was excused from paying $20,000 in unpaid rent and damages, thanks to diplomatic immunity.
These peculiar legal circumstances have unfolded in other parts of the world, with Canada’s Ontario Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations does not cover commercial transactions by diplomats in their host country. Notably, in the United States, a diplomat, Betsy Zouroudis, asserted that her diplomatic status exempted her from settling a $10,000 debt for unpaid rent and legal fees.
This curious case underscores the complexities of diplomatic immunity and its implications for landlords, creating an intricate legal landscape that warrants further examination.