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Letters from October 2016


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How long is too long?

My pay TV provider has just billed me for a couple of pay-per-view purchases made by previous flatmates back in 2013. Our console was not connected properly to the provider’s systems until recently, so I had no idea the payments had not been made. Is three years a “reasonable” amount of time between providing a service and billing the client? JEREMY BELL

Under the Limitation Act, claims for unpaid bills can be made within six years of the event. Three years would therefore be considered “reasonable” under the Act. However, pay TV providers also have obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act to ensure they carry out services with reasonable care and skill. If the company was responsible for the faulty connection or could reasonably have been expected to know about it but did nothing, you would have grounds to challenge the bill.

Staple mishap

I had underfloor insulation installed and the installer put a staple through an electrical wire under the house, disabling my central heating and hot water heating. Can I deduct the repair cost for this from the bill owing to the insulation company? JAMES HARVEY

In our view, the insulation company has not carried out its service with reasonable care and skill. This is a breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act. Under the Act, you have the right to ask the installer to sort out the problem. If it can’t or won’t fix the damage within a reasonable time, you can arrange for someone else to do the repairs and recover the cost from the insulation company.

UPDATE: The insulation company agreed to pay the repair bill.

Small job, big cost

I needed a small paving job done and employed a business I found in the Yellow Pages. I supplied the cobbles. It took two men less than an hour. The bill was a shock — $820 plus GST! I rang a couple of other local businesses for quotes. They told me it was a minor job and suggested the cost would be about $250 plus GST. How would you suggest I deal with my bill? JENNIFER SMITH

Compared with prices given by other tradies you phoned, it appears the pavers have not charged a reasonable amount for the job. This is a breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act. Under the Act, the price charged must be reasonable if no price is agreed before work is started. We suggest you write to the business explaining you’re paying $250 plus GST as its price seems unreasonable compared with other tradies. Make it clear you’re not prepared to pay the total bill unless it can justify the cost.

Heat pump vs dehumidifier

We have a stand-alone dehumidifier and a heat pump in a damp bedroom. The heat pump has a “dry” function. Which of the two is the most effective, and cost-effective, at keeping the room free of dampness? SIMON BAKER

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: The dehumidifier is definitely your best bet for keeping your room dry. Heat pumps can only dehumidify in cooling mode, so their dehumidifying function is only viable during a muggy summer (even then, your best option for removing damp is opening a few windows). Dehumidifiers cool the air to condense moisture then reheat it in a single pass, which means they remove much more water than a heat pump and won’t cool the room while they operate. That said, dehumidifiers work best at higher temperatures, so it’s worth considering leaving the heat pump on while the dehumidifier runs.

Rental agency fees

I am renting a house and recently had a blocked drain at the property. I informed the property manager. She called a plumber who unblocked the drain. The property manager sent me an invoice for $250 plus GST for the plumber’s work. There was a further 10 percent plus GST added for the property manager’s administration fees. My question is whether it is common practice and legal for rental agencies to charge administration fees for invoices that go through their office? I was not informed beforehand of this practice. A MEMBER

Aneleise Gawn, Consumer advocate, says: We think it’s unreasonable for the property manager to charge an administration fee. You didn’t agree to pay the fee before the manager hired the plumber and there isn’t anything in your tenancy agreement allowing such a fee to be charged. The property manager is also presumably being paid by the landlord to manage the property so arranging a plumber should be covered by those fees. Fees not disclosed in a contract are open to challenge under the unfair terms provisions of the Fair Trading Act. We suggest you point this out to your property manager. If you can’t resolve the problem, you can contact Tenancy Services. You can also complain to the Commerce Commission, which enforces the Fair Trading Act.

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