By PHILIP CHANDLER
A heavily-pregnant Queenstown migrant stressed out about losing her job claims she’s also been intimidated by her landlord.
Spa beauty and massage therapist Viviane Soares de Freitas was distressed enough to be among 150 Hilton Hotel staff made redundant in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Due to give birth next month, the Brazilian, who’s been having pregnancy complications, argued she should instead have been given six months’ maternity leave, then returned to work next year.
“I was panicky, I was tearful, I had to take a lot of medicine to sleep.”
Making matters worse, she alleges she’s been treated unreasonably by her landlord, Queenstowner Michael Dong, and this week laid a complaint with the Tenancy Tribunal.
He’d placed her “under extreme pressure to move out … after she attempted to negotiate a rent reduction,” so is claiming exemplary damages from him.
She’s also seeking an early termination of her lease.
That’s in light of her redundancy and her taxi driver husband’s loss of income.
In March, the couple, who also have a four-year-old boy, signed a year-long lease on a three-bedroom Shotover Country home for $870 a week.
A week later, New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown began.
‘‘I told my landlord I could afford to pay only 50 per cent of my weekly rent, but he didn’t
agree,’’ Freitas says.
‘‘He said I should follow the contract, that he was in trouble as well so he couldn’t help me, and if I find somewhere, I had to move as soon as possible.’’
A month ago, Dong contacted Hilton’s human relations director to confirm whether his tenant had lost her job — the director told him she couldn’t give that information without Freitas’ consent.
In her Tenancy Tribunal complaint, Freitas says Dong’s action caused her ‘‘stress and
embarrassment’’, and interfered with a tenant’s right to ‘quiet enjoyment’.
Meantime she’d taken on local employment consultant David Buckingham to act for her.
In an email to Dong on May 3, he states: ‘‘Despite the continued reminders that Viviane has not given notice and does not seek to end the tenancy, you have continued to put pressure on her, during her late stages of pregnancy, to leave the property.’’
Buckingham, who’s advocated for migrants for three years, says ‘‘I’ve never seen something so reprehensible as what I’ve seen of the conduct of this landlord’’.
‘‘This is a vulnerable, heavily-pregnant migrant who has been sleepless and stressed, and this goes against all principles of reasonable behaviour.’’
Dong, however, believes Freitas and her advocate have been the ‘‘unreasonable’’ ones, and claims Buckingham ‘‘bullied’’ him over the phone.
She’d insisted on paying only half the rent with no negotiation, while he’d offered to drop it to $700, he says.
He’d not tried to force her out, but had said if she’d found somewhere cheaper, she should
Dong says he’d been accused of playing ‘hard ball’, but in refusing to allow a prospective tenant to view the property, Freitas and Buckingham were doing just that.
As a result, Dong says a tenant he’d lined up, who’d been prepared to pay more, had pulled out.
Due to his mortgage, he needed at least $700 a week in rent.
He adds that at the start he’d paid $1400 to fence the property, at Freitas’ request, to keep her four-year-old safe.
Meanwhile, Hilton hotelier Chris Ehmann, while not aware of Freitas’ specific case, says,
unfortunately, like all hotel operations, spa staff numbers had to be downsized.
And, ‘‘for a variety of reasons’’, the hotel’s priority had been to keep on Kiwi employees.