High-fliers leave luxury Queenstown landlord high and dry

Michael Pearce. Photo: Supplied
Michael Pearce. Photo: Supplied
The owner of a luxury Lake Hayes home had to resort to social media to track down a formerly high-flying Queenstown couple who left the property owing more than $16,000 in rent.

Suzie Bognar’s post on a community Facebook page asked if anyone could tell her Michael Pearce and Fiona Knapp’s latest address so they could be served with legal documents relating to the unpaid rent.

It included a link to a Tenancy Tribunal decision in January that terminated the couple’s tenancy of the $2000 a week Speargrass Flat Rd home, and ordered them to pay Ms Bognar $16,730.14 for rent arrears and electricity charges.

At a tribunal hearing in January, Pearce said he and his family had recently returned to New Zealand from the United Kingdom, and his funds had been blocked as a result of the ‘‘anti-money laundering regime in the UK’’.

However, he did not provide any evidence about the issue, the decision said.

Ms Bognar told the Otago Daily Times the couple still owed $12,000, and ‘‘using the power of social media’’ was her only option after Pearce failed to give her an address for service.

Fiona Knapp. Photo: Supplied
Fiona Knapp. Photo: Supplied
‘‘My objective wasn’t necessarily to name and shame, but to have someone help me find out where they were.

‘‘I wasn’t prepared to just walk away — there’s a moral issue here.’’

She now had their latest address, and would be serving legal documents and pursuing the matter in the courts.

The couple had made an excellent first impression, she said.

‘‘They came across as the landed gentry — butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.’’

She would be doing more extensive background checks of prospective tenants from now on.

‘‘We got sucked in big time.’’

In a social media profile, Pearce describes himself as a self-employed investment and brand development consultant and financial adviser who had worked in the United Kingdom for 30 years.

He had established successful fashion and luxury brands, including the launch of the UGG footwear brand in the UK.

Consulting to fashion and luxury brands, private equity and luxury businesses, he had secured them finance through his extensive list of investors and contacts, the profile on his Rockbridge International website says.

‘‘Working with investors in the UK, the Middle East, the USA and China, he has raised over £100m in direct investment capital for emerging companies.’’.

‘‘Family and the call of home brings a new chapter in beautiful Otago’’.

On her business website, Knapp says she had been a jewellery designer with an ‘‘established international clientile of jewellery enthusiasts and collectors of fine jewellery’’ since she opened a studio in London’s Notting Hill area in 2003.

She was ‘‘now living and working between London and her new home with her family in Queenstown’’.

In an emailed response to the ODT, Pearce said the issue was ‘‘a private matter’’ and the outstanding amount was ‘‘largely paid off’’.