31 May 2017

Mouldy, damp rental blamed for toddler's ill-health

10:21 am on 31 May 2017

A Kapiti family says their rental property is so mouldy, damp and hard to heat that they would be better off living in a tent.

Mould in the living room.

Mould in the house's living room. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

In April, their 1-year-old daughter caught bronchiolitis from living in the cold house, and the doctors referred the family for a healthy housing assessment.

They are now living with family nearby, and are on a Housing New Zealand waiting list.

Irene Kirk and her partner, Kelly Walker, are on a limited income, and the house they can afford to rent in Paraparaumu is damp and mouldy.

They said they did what they could but it was a hard house to heat: there is a gaping, uninsulated hole in the ceiling above the fireplace, for example, and in their old bedroom, the paving outside the house can be seen through a gap in the floorboards.

Mould in outside paving that is visible through a gap in the floorboards.

Mould in outside paving that is visible through a gap in the floorboards. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

It was about 12°C in Paraparaumu that morning, and it was no warmer inside the house. In fact, in some rooms, it felt even colder.

Miss Walker said last month their daughter got sick as a result.

"Our baby has been admitted to hospital three times with respiratory problems," Miss Walker said. "The third time it was quite bad because she ended up in ICU with bronchiolitis."

"It was scary, she had feeding tubes in her, she had IV lines in both her feet - it was [scarier] for me because she just ripped them all out."

Kelly Walker and her 15-month-old daughter.

Kelly Walker and her 15-month-old daughter. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Miss Kirk said mould had recently been chiselled off the wall of the room they used to sleep in.

"It's disgusting, aye," she said. "The people that had been living here before us had been here for 10 years. They had two kids ... and they were getting sick all the time. Hospital."

The doctors, suspecting the housing situation had caused the bronchiolitis, referred the family for a Regional Public Health-run Well Homes assessment.

David Pierce would like to warrants of fitness for rental homes made mandatory.

David Pierce would like warrants of fitness for rental homes to be made mandatory. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

The assessor, David Pierce, who works for the Sustainability Trust in Wellington, inspected the rooms for drafts and mould, poked his head into the ceilings and crawled under the house.

He gave the women tips on minimising moisture and keeping the heat in.

The problems with the house were bad enough to affect the tenants' health, Mr Pierce said.

"This house is open plan, so the family has difficulty controlling the heat distribution," he said.

"There's obviously a moisture issue somewhere, so that's either water coming through the roof ... or damp soil under the house. The net result is that there is mould and quite a high level of mould, especially in the bathroom and one of the bedrooms, which is a concern."

Mould in the bathroom.

There was quite a high level of mould detected, particularly in the bathroom, said Mr Pierce. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

His organisation would like to see warrants of fitness for rental homes made mandatory, because tenants would know houses were safe before they moved in, he said.

Landlord Phil Gapes said he bought the property about 18 months ago - and the previous owners did not do any maintenance.

Since then, he said he had fitted insulation where he could and fixed multiple leaks in the roof.

He was now hoping to fix up the mouldy bathroom and install a heat pump.

Mr Pierce said he would write up a report - including recommendations - from his assessment, which he would then share with the landlord.

For tips on how to keep your house warm and dry.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs