Couple forced to challenge debt at Disputes Tribunal.
A Whanganui motel that pursued two guests for $102 to fix a broken shower has been told by the Disputes Tribunal the couple don’t owe the money and to call off the debt collectors.
Shirleyanne and Jim Burch, with their adult daughter, stayed at Bignell Street Motel last year. Shirleyanne says her daughter was trying to adjust the shower temperature when the handle flew off, sending hot water streaming down the wall and flooding the bathroom.
“We contacted the motelier by phone as he was not on site. He suggested we turn off the little plastic levers behind the mixer plate, which had also fallen to the floor,” she says. They managed to turn off the water and were given access to a bathroom in an adjoining unit for the rest of their stay.
About a month later, they received a $102 invoice from the motel for repair of the shower. The couple immediately disputed the bill but were told by the motel manager “whoever breaks it, pays for it”. If the bill wasn’t paid within seven days, the motel said it would pass it to Baycorp and “it will affect your credit rating”.
The motel argued excessive force must have been used to cause the handle to break. But the couple sought an opinion from the shower manufacturer, which suggested worn seals were the likely cause of the problem. When they informed the motel, the manager replied the showers were serviced regularly. He said there would be no further correspondence and payment was required.
Despite the bill being in dispute, the motel sent it to Baycorp. Shirleyanne says they were “hounded” for payment. “As we’d had no previous dealings with debt collection agencies, we found this episode stressful,” she says.
The couple took the matter to the Disputes Tribunal, which found they didn’t owe the money and ordered the motel to advise Baycorp of this. The tribunal referee determined the motel hadn’t shown the couple were liable for damage to the shower and therefore had no claim.
Bignell Street Motel did not provide comment on this case.
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, motels must take reasonable care and skill in providing their services. If accommodation is not fit for purpose, the motel has to put things right.
If a dispute occurs over a bill with a motel – or any other business – the onus is on the company to establish the debt is owing before sending it to the debt collectors. Dispute the debt immediately, in writing. If you can't resolve matters, take your case to the Disputes Tribunal.