Cambridge Edition



Greed and unreasonab­le behaviour are unfortunat­ely common, but there’s an easy way of correcting both when it comes to enforcing contracts.

Take the strange case of the $362.25 fee to change a toilet seat.

Amulti-decade systemic failure to train enough tradespeop­le has had a disastrous effect on the cost of having the simplest job done around the home.

But even so, $362.24 to change a toilet seat is ludicrous.

It illustrate­s why a homeowner these days needs to have at least basic DIY skills.

The toilet seat and the installati­on charge took the total cost to $485.05.

This incredible cost was paid by a man who bought a home in late 2020.

This eagle-eyed buyer had spotted the toilet seat, and negotiated for the seller to pay for a new one.

No record was made of the agreement. It was a verbal contract. But then the man buying the house did nothing for 15 months, and the seller presumably forgot all about it.

Then the seller got a text from the buyer saying he had paid a plumber nearly $500 to switch the seat.

The seller was shocked, and she was not inclined to pay such a silly sum.

The buyer felt he was on strong ground with his verbal contract, and went to the Disputes Tribunal Te Rōpū Whakawawao Tautohe to force the woman to pay up.

The tribunal exists to sort out cases of minor commercial disputes gone wrong.

The person who feels they have been wronged pays a fee (in this case $45), and puts their case without the help of a lawyer.

In this case, published this month, the referee found the verbal contract between buyer and seller was no less binding than a written contract.

The seller had agreed to pay for the seat, but there had been no discussion of paying a fee, let alone a monstrous fee, for installing it.

The buyer was under the belief that only a plumber could install a toilet seat.

It’s true only a plumber can do plumbing work, but the online guide from the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drain layers Board makes it plain it’s not illegal for untrained people to do such simple work as unscrewing a toilet seat, and fitting a new one.

The tribunal did not touch on this point. It didn’t need to. It concluded the verbal contract was limited to the house seller paying the cost of the replacemen­t seat, not its installati­on.

Had the verbal contract included installati­on, that would surely have been debated, and I hope the tribunal would have concluded a fee of $362.24 to change a toilet seat was unreasonab­le.

The verbal contract also did not include a timeframe for completion.

The tribunal concluded six months was the limit, and that had timed out in April last year.

The case gives us all an insight into how the tribunal sees verbal contracts, where the two parties have not recorded the terms, even in an exchange of emails, or on a scrap of paper.


Got a question for Rob or an issue you want him to tackle? Contact Rob by going online to Neighbourl­y and type the name of our newspaper into the search bar. Click our name and select Contact from the menu bar and ‘‘message our reporter’’ from the dropdown menu.

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 ?? ?? The poor homeowner spent $362.25 replacing a cracked toilet seat in the belief the person who sold them the home would pay.
The poor homeowner spent $362.25 replacing a cracked toilet seat in the belief the person who sold them the home would pay.
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