Kāinga Ora has been slapped with a hefty $8,957.50 compensation bill after leaving a tenant in a Henderson, Auckland house with black mould for two years and only fixing the rot when she moved out.
The house was so unhealthy, the tenant and her young son left the property a month before the tenancy ended and lived in her car because of the effect the premises had on their health.
While she was sick with respiratory issues, rashes and itchiness, her sister moved into the house to help care for her son. But when Kāinga Ora was considering alternative accommodation while mould remediation was carried out, it would not include her in the arrangements.
The tribunal was not impressed with Kāinga Ora’s handling of the property’s mould issues. The tribunal suggested Kāinga Ora adopt a set procedure that involves employing specialist contractors, sealing off the affected areas, using special protective equipment and considering relocating tenants while the decontamination is carried out.
“It is not acceptable for the landlord to pass the responsibility of safety to contractors unless the landlord is satisfied the contractor follows safe procedures,” said tribunal adjudicator N Walker.
The tenant, who has name suppression, had been in the house with her young son since 2009. And in the last few years of her tenancy she had issues with Kāinga Ora not carrying out necessary maintenance when issues arose.
The mould issue started in August 2017 when the tenant contacted Kāinga Ora about the overflowing hot water cylinder.
She also complained about the high cost of her power bills. It turned out the cylinder temperature was set too high in addition to overflowing.
After the landlord replaced the hot water cylinder the pipes going from the cylinder to the bathroom leaked and this caused dampness and mould to grow.
Repairs were started in April 2018 on the wet wall lining for the shower/bath.
When the contractor removed the lining black mould was revealed. The tenant took photographs of the mould and gave them to the landlord.
Unfortunately, the contractor did not speak English and appeared to have no knowledge or expertise in dealing with black mould, the tribunal heard.
He removed the wet wall lining, left it open for four days so the tenant could not use the bath or shower, and instead of removing the gib board and checking the framing timber he just put another sheet of wet wall lining over the black mould.
Three months later contractors removed the wet wall lining and the gib that should have been removed in April.
Further black mould was found, which upset the tenant, as she was concerned about the health issues she and her son had been suffering.
Another three months went by and Kāinga Ora decided to test the mould. It was found to be abundant stachybotrys as well as a moderate level of other fungus. The report mentioned remediation.
Kāinga Ora told the tribunal in such situations it has no set procedure for keeping tenants safe. It just passes the job to a contractor to manage.
The tenant said the original contractor took no safety measures whatsoever and the area affected was not sealed off from the rest of the house.
Pressure from Kāinga Ora was put on the tenant to resolve issues in relation to her leaving the house while the mould was remediated.
She was asked whether she could stay with family members and put her belongings in storage, at her cost.
At no time during this process did Kāinga Ora consider offering the tenant a rent rebate.
It conceded there are times when a tenant will be relocated while remediation work is carried out, but it did not happen in this case.
At the time the tenant’s health issues were so significant she could not care for her son and her sister moved in to help.
As Kāinga Ora refused to include the sister in any alternate accommodation, the tenant had to remain in the house while suffering from its unhealthy effects.
Before 2017, the tenant told the tribunal she and her son had no health issues.
Health records showed since 2017 the tenant has suffered from a running nose, itchy eyes, cough, wheeze, rash on her arms and legs, impetigo, skin infections and likely upper respiratory infections.
In July 2018 when aged three years old, the tenant’s son was hospitalised for a respiratory infection and diarrhoea.
Two letters were sent to the landlord from the tenant’s GPs saying the house’s mouldy and damp conditions were not ideal for her son’s chest infection and it could affect his lungs long term.
The tenant was hospitalised in April 2019 because of a skin infection accompanied with mild headaches, dizziness and was treated with IV antibiotics and long-term antibiotics.
A further doctor’s letter was sent in May the same year supporting a move to a better house due to the tenant’s medical issues.
The tenant was again admitted to hospital in July 2019 for a skin infection and likely upper respiratory infection.
When she finally left the tenancy, the tribunal heard the tenant and her son’s running noses stopped as did the skin condition and breathing difficulties.
However, some of the tenant’s health issues are ongoing and she is now described as having an underlying health condition.
During her tenancy there were also other issues with the property, the tribunal heard. Rotting, mouldy and slippery steps to the deck, rotting eaves outside the bathroom window – which Kāinga Ora said could have caused mould in the bathroom – lino lifting in the kitchen where the hot water cylinder leaked and guttering which was missing.
Big repair bill
After the tenant left the property, Kāinga Ora spent $37,500 on refurbishment and fixing the many maintenance issues.
It claimed the tenant did not give access for maintenance repairs to be carried out.
This was disputed by the tenant and did not wash with adjudicator Walker who pointed out there is provision in the Residential Tenancies Act for the landlord to enter the premises to carry out necessary repairs or maintenance between 8am and 7pm after giving the tenant 24 hours’ notice.
“The landlord was aware of the issues and did not address them until the tenant left the property. I do not accept the landlord’s reason for not addressing the issues in a timely manner,” said Walker.
Compensation to the tenant for black mould in the premises was calculated by the tribunal on reimbursement of rent for four weeks for the period when the tenant and her son lived in her car; reimbursement of rent of four days for the period when the bathroom wall was open, and the tenant was not able to bathe; reimbursement of half the rent for the remaining period from August 21, 2017 until July 24, 2019; and reimbursement of power costs of $100 per month for a period of 25 months.