An Auckland landlord has been hit with a massive fine after allowing a young family to live in a mould-infested rental riddled with holes, leaks, rats and fleas.
Tenant Ataoletaeao Kelly Tigifagu won more than $22,000 compensation after renting a hovel-like West Auckland property in Glen Eden.
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"It was not an understatement to say that people's lives were at risk due to living in these premises," a just-released Tenancy Tribunal decision found.
Tigifagu's 10-month-old daughter went to hospital with bronchiolitis during the tenancy, while her mother also suffered ill health, adjudicator Nicola Maplesden said.
As early as July 2016, a report by property managers Barfoot & Thompson stated the home "was not suitable to re-rent in future".
Yet owner Colleen Aberhart took years to complete any repairs.
It meant rain dripped through one bedroom ceiling onto a bed where Tigifagu slept with her daughters - aged 6, 3, and 10 months - and damp and mould filled the room.
Another bedroom had window sills "rotted right through".
"This bedroom was not used by the tenants for over a year as rodents entered through the holes in the window-sills and it was cold and damp," Maplesden said.
"They had sealed the interior door with tape to try to prevent rodents from entering further into the house."
The rats chewed a hole into one of the bedroom walls and brought repeated flea infestations over the course of two years.
Other problems at the home included a shower the family couldn't use for more than one year because it lacked water pressure, plus extensive mould, worn flooring and a "swollen and rotten" kitchen bench top.
There was also "no laundry area in (the) house as rodents had eaten through wiring", no insulation or vent fans and gutters that overflowed when it rained because of the plants growing in them.
It appeared many of these problems could have been fixed earlier with cheap repair jobs.
At an earlier hearing in September this year, the adjudicator ordered owner Aberhart to undertake nine repair jobs on the rental.
"I note that five roof tiles were replaced and that this stopped the leaks through the
ceiling into two bedrooms. This repair cost less than $238," she said.
The shower was also been fixed at a cost of $415, while temporary repairs to all the holes in the walls and ceilings, rotten window frames and latches, and leaking windows cost $242.
Aberhart told the Tenancy Tribunal "she was unaware of how bad the condition of the house was".
She also denied Barfoot & Thompson reports in 2016 and 2017, stating she didn't want to do any repairs because she intended to demolish the house.
However, Maplesden disagreed, finding Aberhart did know repairs were needed but "intentionally breached" her obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.
She ordered Tigifagu to receive $17,055 compensation for "failure to maintain", $3500 exemplary damages for "maintenance" and $2000 exemplary damage for the failure to install insulation by July 2019.
"Everyone living at the house has been bitten by fleas and bothered by mice, been cold and damp, been unable to shower in their own home, and been denied the dignity of living in a reasonably well-maintained home," Maplesden said.
Maplesden ordered Barfoot & Thompson to pay $2000 in exemplary damages.
The company ceased acting as property managers for Aberhart in July when she failed to install insulation by the Government deadline.
It also argued it did all it could to bring the rental's maintenance issues to Aberhart's attention.
But the adjudicator found the company kept acting as property manager even after writing in 2016 that the property shouldn't be re-rented in the future.
There was also no evidence it told Aberhart she risked breaking the law if she didn't fix the rental up, Maplesden said.
Barfoot & Thompson director Kiri Barfoot apologised to the Tigifagu family.
"As an agency we have a policy that should an owner continually delay on works we have instructed, we cancel the management agreement," she said.
"Our property managers tried repeatedly to get repairs carried out for the tenant, however the owner delayed on each and every occasion."
"We no longer represent this landlord, however we recognise we should have acted quicker."
The Herald has sought comment from Aberhart.