Three years ago there was excitement in the house of Miki Sziksai.
He'd paid $17,000 upfront to have a VW campervan fitted out, ready for family holidays with his wife and daughter. They loved the outdoors, so this automotive addition to the family – at a total cost of $25,000 – was going to be perfect.
And it would have been, had they ever taken ownership of it. Instead, they've been on a long, gruelling journey, trying to claw back the money they paid to the owner of the van, and they are still owed money to this day.
Miki is not alone in his plight. He's one of a number of people who've complained to Fair Go about unfair dealings with the company The Bus Haus, owned and operated by Lindsay Michael Simmonds.
Miki first came to Fair Go three years ago. He'd got a court order for Michael Simmonds to pay him back $24,000 - the $17,000 he'd paid for the van upfront, plus court costs.
At that time, Miki had received none of this money, but after Fair Go's intervention, Simmonds agreed to start, and said the debt could be all paid up in a few months.
At first it was looking good. In three installments, Miki received $12,000 of what's owed to him. But then the repayments dried up.
Simmonds admitted cash flow was a problem and suggested that he make Miki the legal owner of a different van, to act as security in case his business was liquidated.
The registration of this van was changed to Miki's name. Miki checked the van out on Carjam to be sure there were no security interests against the vehicle.
It all looked good, so he agreed. He also said Simmonds could hold on to the van to rent it out in order to raise money to pay him back. Miki wasn't paid back anything beyond the $12,000 and soon enough, he heard The Bus Haus had indeed gone into liquidation.
He also found out that Simmonds' wife, Svetlana, had registered a new company called Smart RV Limited and Simmonds was now operating from this company.
This isn't to be confused with SmartRV, another nationwide motorhome company that has no gap in its name.
Miki was just glad he had the van as security, and rang Simmonds to arrange to collect it. But despite repeatedly trying to sort out a pick up, his attempts were thwarted one way or another every time.
Frustrated, Miki deregistered the van so that Simmonds could no longer use it to rent out. He was worried about liability, not knowing the condition of the van. Miki bided his time, thinking about his next step, when a letter arrived in the post.
It was a bit of a surprise. NZTA had written to charge him some $170 for disposing of his campervan. This was news to Miki!
He did a search on registrations and found that the van had been re-registered to - you guessed it - Smart RV Limited. The penny began to drop.
Miki said, "I think there is a very calculated aspect to Mr Simmonds. He knows exactly the right framing and phrasing to use the law to his advantage".
Miki rang Michael Simmonds who said Miki had abandoned the vehicle. This despite the fact Miki had tried to collect the vehicle several times.
Simmonds said Miki could have the van if he paid him $6000 to give to the secured creditor of The Bus Haus who was owed a much greater amount, adding that the van was worth more than the amount owed.
Not surprisingly, Miki didn't feel comfortable handing over any more money to Simmonds for a van he'd not set eyes on.
Miki said he'd put the $6000 aside as security, and once he had the van, he would pay Simmonds the $6000 to give to the secured creditor, if he kept the van, or he would sell it and give Simmonds any profit above what he was owed.
But there was never any final agreement. It became a stalemate.
At this point, Miki recruited a private investigator, Jodee Watts. He thought that if he could locate the van, then he should be able to get a bailiff to retrieve it for him, given he believed he owned it.
The P.I. quickly determined where Simmonds was now based, having moved from Auckland to Rotorua. She also pinned down the several locations that Simmonds was storing his vans, including the one that had Miki's van.
The Bailiff was contacted but when he found out the van was registered to Smart RV he said he couldn't repossess it as the court order was against Michael Simmonds personally.
This was infuriating for Miki, who felt this was tantamount to stealing. Miki went to the Police to see if they could take on his case, but after due consideration, they said it was still a civil matter.
At this point, Miki came back to Fair Go, at the very least to warn others against Michael Simmonds and the new company he’s running, Smart RV.
Fair Go emailed Michael Simmonds but failed to get a reply, so we went through the website of his liquidated company The Bus Haus and set up a meeting saying we were interested in renting a van.
Simmonds turned up, late, and actually didn't seem too perturbed when we approached him with questions. We asked how he could still be operating under the name The Bus Haus.
He said the liquidator had given him the authority to do so. This turned out to be untrue. However, his main secured creditor, who under a GSA has control of The Bus Haus assets, had authorised Simmonds to try to earn money using referrals from his old company.
Then time to quiz Simmonds about Miki's van. On this matter, his answers appeared to be a range of excuses. We can say they were excuses, because we checked them out, and there is nothing standing in the way of Simmonds finding a resolution with Miki.
But after a series of emails flying back and forth, an end may be in sight. Just prior to Fair Go airing, Simmonds agreed for Miki to re-register the van in his name, and for the van to be readied and sold in 25 days, with the first $12,000 of the sale going to repay Miki's debt.
Fair Go will follow up on this, and hopes that our final story with Simmonds will be completely positive and a sign he can do good business.