9 Apr 2024

Black mould and septic overflow: What tenants are dealing with

6:32 pm on 9 April 2024
An image of houses among trees on a hill.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Tenants across the country say they are still living in homes that do not meet the healthy homes standards.

All private rentals have until July next year to meet the requirements, the rules setting minimum criteria for heating, insulation, ventilation, draft stopping, moisture ingress and drainage.

But some tenants have described the situations they are dealing with right now.

Overflow from the septic tank spilled into an Auckland woman's garden for days before her landlord stepped in.

The tenant is taking a case to the Tenancy Tribunal, and her friend was shocked with the state of the property.

"It got to the point where the septic tank overflowed. There was crap all over her back garden, they left it like that for days because they didn't want to pay for an emergency plumber.

"They told her just to not go outside, she's got kids."

The woman had to fix the issues with the home by herself, and was not reimbursed by her landlord.

"It's a two-storey property and all of the windows on the top storey did not have any sort of safety latch, so you could just open the handle and push the window right out."

Residents of an all-female flat in Wellington said their home needed some serious maintenance, but the landlord preferred to do things himself.

"He's trying to do it as cheaply as possible, our flatmate's window sill was rotting from the outside and was about to fall off, and when we told him about it he just got the drill out and drilled it back in."

The same landlord also did not give reasonable notice to the tenants before showing up to the property.

"He'll organise a time to come over for example, if I said come up on Sunday, on Friday night at about 6:30, he'll text me, can I come over now?"

"We either say no because we're not home or we feel we like feel compelled to say yes because we fear that if we don't say yes, he just won't come and fix what's wrong."

A different landlord in Wellington allegedly offered a scholarship to university students to live in one of their rental properties.

If the student gets straight As, they will have $501 deducted from their rent.

However, a previous tenant said the catch was that the flat was mildewy and dingy.

"We discovered black mould in all of the bedrooms."

Another tenant in Wellington said the last property he was renting was run-down and falling apart.

"The outside of this entire flat was just falling to pieces. I don't know when it had last been painted or taken care of, but everything was just coming off."

His landlord also favoured DIY fixes instead of expensive call outs, he said.

"At first we just thought this was a responsible landlord, but we did become increasingly aware this was cutting corners and not necessarily trying to get things done right."

Renters United President Luke Somervell said some renters were forced to choose between living in poor conditions or not having a home at all.

"There's this culture that renters should be grateful for whatever they get in this country.

"We've got people who aren't shopping for choice in homes, they're actually searching to survive and to have a place to live."

He said landlords held the power because people needed a place to live.

"We're putting people in this awful choice between having a draughty house, especially in Wellington, or no house at all.

"They'll tend to pick the the first option. They'll pick the draughty house, the mouldy house, the cold house.

"I just think it's disgraceful we're putting people in this position at all."

New Zealand Property Investors Federation president Sue Harrison said they ran courses for landlords to educate them about the standards required for a property.

If the government decided to make it compulsory to be a member of the association, they could ensure landlords were being compliant, she said.

"We have a lot of incentives in place for people to comply but as far as going around and checking, that's not our role."

Harrison said if she was aware of a member not following standards she would "certainly have a quiet word with them that they could face consequences".

Housing Minister Chris Bishop said the government expected all landlords to follow the law and comply with their obligations under the Healthy Homes standards.

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