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NZ family fights to get back belongings from Fiji rental property after Covid crisis forces return home

A New Zealand family is fighting to get back everything they own from a Fiji rental property after returning home due to Covid-19.

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More than 40,000 Kiwis have returned from overseas since March and for some, like the MacPhersons, it’s been a nightmare. Source: 1 NEWS

Andrew MacPherson, his wife Monique and their three children moved to the island nation last year after he secured his dream regional job.

The family shipped over everything they owned as they expected to be there for several years.

A shortage of rental homes at the time led them to sign a two-year lease with landlord Russell Baumann for a house in Pacific Harbour near Suva.

“We just wanted to enjoy our time there, have a house where we would feel like we are having an adventure and enjoy the three years,” Monique said.

But when Covid-19 hit and Foreign Minister Winston Peters strongly advised those overseas to “start coming home now”, the MacPhersons caught one of the last planes out of Fiji to Auckland, leaving all their possessions behind in the belief it would just be for a short while.

But several months later, after realising Covid-19 wasn’t going away, the MacPhersons couldn’t afford to pay rent in two countries so they decided to give up their Fiji rental.

It meant breaking their two-year lease with Baumann and while they were unable to meet their termination obligations, they nonetheless offered three months notice.

“We offered him over $12,000 in rent for three months plus he has $6000 of ours in a bond,” Andrew said.

But Baumann refused to accept the money, pointing to their lease agreement.

In July, when the family were still paying rent on the property, he stopped the removal process of all their possessions inside and changed the gate padlock.

And despite earlier promising he wouldn’t sell the property while the MacPhersons had a lease, he also started showing potential buyers around.

The MacPhersons said Fijian sources have told them the property's since been sold.

Baumann told 1 NEWS it's nobody's business whether the house has been sold and he has the right to do what he likes with the property. He claims that because the MacPhersons are out of the country he's allowed into the house as per the tenancy agreement.

Baumann wants their possessions sold to offset what's owed to him, saying he's made some concessions but the bottom line is the family has breached the tenancy agreement and abandoned the property.

The MacPhersons say they don’t trust him and have filed a complaint to Fiji’s Competition and Consumer Commission.

They can't afford a lawyer as the move back to New Zealand has cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

“This guy just wants to play hardball - he just wants to ruin us,” Andrew said.