Exposing pest problem

Helga asks:
(updated on Friday, January 16th 2015)

A Christchurch family rents a flat with a one year fixed term in Auckland for their 19-year-old daughter to use. The mother travels to Auckland to inspect the flat and during the inspection she finds open shoe box looking containers all over the kitchen. The property manager explains that “it is a routine precaution regarding insects between two tenancies.” The mother is grateful for it and tells the manager that her daughter suffers from a quite serious hereditary dermatitis. She can react to cockroach droppings and fumigation residues. She spends the following day scrubbing all residues from the kitchen. They furnish the flat newly. The girl moves in. A few weeks later it became obvious that the place is heavily infested, not just with cockroaches, but also with ants. The girl immediately reacts with the classic outbreak - rubella looking rashes and flu-like symptoms. After several weeks (including threats of involving the Tenancy Tribunal, the council health inspector etc) the agency agrees to discontinue the tenancy. The girl moves out and then a few days later a new fixed term tenant moved in. He is a new migrant, who is expecting his young family to arrive shortly. There is no realistic possibility that within a few days the flat miraculously became pest free. In conclusion the agency now knowingly risks another tenant's health and wellbeing. This is a problem that needs exposure.

Our Experts Answer:


Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act), landlords have an obligation to provide the premises in a reasonably clean and tidy condition.  This includes ensuring the premises are free from vermin, or infestation. If a tenant feels that their landlord has not met their obligations at the beginning of the tenancy, they should raise their concerns with the landlord in the first instance in an attempt to resolve the issue.  Where this does not resolve the matter, a tenant can give the landlord a notice to remedy the situation, and if not complied with, can make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved.  Such an application could include a “work order”, an order requiring the landlord to remedy the breach, and an order for “exemplary damages”, a monetary sum awarded to the tenant should it be deemed an unlawful act has occurred which has resulted in the tenant being able to demonstrate they have suffered a loss as a result of the breach. A landlord also has an obligation to disclose any information that they are aware of that may affect a parties’ decision to enter into a residential tenancy agreement. Where a party to an agreement feels that the other party has misrepresented the premises, or the terms and conditions associated with the granting of a tenancy agreement, they may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for an order to resolve the dispute. To determine whether a property complies with all relevant health, safety, and building regulations, affected parties should contact the local council in the area the property is located. Further information about a landlord and tenant’s rights and obligations can be viewed by visiting our website (www.tenancy.govt.nz), or by calling our Tenancy Advice line on 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262) Monday to Friday between 8am and 5.30pm.

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