More than a third of Rotorua residents are living in homes with mould. Who is to blame? Shoddy tenants, who don't clean or ventilate their homes or landlords who refuse to listen to tenants' pleas for help? Kelly Makiha reports.
Rotorua tenants are scared to complain about mould in their homes in case their landlords kick them out while landlords say too many tenants are failing to clean and ventilate their mouldy homes.
A new survey shows more than a third of Rotorua residents are living in homes with mould despite the introduction of housing reforms to improve the health of our houses.
Statistics NZ's latest wellbeing survey found the Bay of Plenty, including Rotorua, ranked the sixth worst in the country with 36.3 per cent of homes having mould in them.
Across the country, about 16 per cent of Kiwis reported seeing mould bigger than an A4 sized paper in their homes – the effects of which can be devastating and even life threatening.
University of Otago associate professor Nevil Pierse said Kiwis made up about 28,000 visits to hospital each year as a result of living in cold and damp houses.
Children who went to hospital for these so-called housing-related illnesses returned for further treatment almost four times more often than those hospitalised for other conditions, he said.
And while the illnesses – including asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis – were preventable, many children were dying.
"In the next 15 years, those kids are 10 times more likely to die than kids hospitalised from other causes," Pierse said.
'Callous' betrayal: How one worker ripped off his sick boss
Victory for family: Neihana's choking tragedy sparks change
Kelly Makiha: Harry Edward - once seen never forgotten
Mould flourishes in cold and damp homes, especially those poorly built, lacking insulation and adequate heating or with water leaking into or pooling around the house.
Rotorua tenants spoken to by the Rotorua Daily Post, who wouldn't be named, said they feared telling their landlords about their mould problem because the housing crisis meant there were plenty of other people willing to put up with it for a roof over their heads.
One woman said when she complained, she got a 42-day eviction notice and an "excuse" from the landlord that they wanted to live in the property. She then saw the house back on the market advertised for more rent.
Another Rotorua tenant said she and her flatmate were constantly cleaning but the black mould kept coming back.
"We even tried painting over it with a mould stopper paint but it came back. The landlord doesn't really care and says it's not his problem."
She said complaining was always tricky given the housing crisis.
"In a way, we are really grateful for the fact we can stay here and we don't want to say too much is wrong with it but my mum got bad asthma when she came to stay here."
Rotorua Property Investors Association president Debbie Van Den Broek said she had mould in her own home but she managed it properly by cleaning regularly and ventilating it.
She said no landlord wanted to ignore mould in their homes because they couldn't get insurance for the gradual damage it caused.
"If you've got mould, you need to attend to it. I still get mould on my windowsills but I clean it."
She said she had tenants who had complained about mould then new tenants in the same house didn't have a problem.
"It comes down to household hygiene."
Nick Gregg from Sustainable Options, a social enterprise that works to improve living conditions by giving "energy audits" on Bay of Plenty homes, said there were certainly faults on both sides - tenants and landlords.
However, he said the main problem was that a majority of homes were not fit for New Zealand standards.
"Cold and mould doesn't discriminate. We live on an island that has relatively high humidity and we live in an environment where there is going to be mould ... We still build homes that don't handle our New Zealand living conditions well."
Gregg said homes being built now would be mouldy in the future.
"Our modern building code is still not providing homes that are warm, dry and healthy. We have a culture in New Zealand of poor housing conditions and landlords are just reflecting that. All of our homes are being impacted by mould, cold and damp living conditions and it's impacting our most vulnerable first."
The Government has introduced new healthy homes standards to make rentals warmer and drier, Housing and Urban Development's manager of housing quality Claire Leadbetter said.
All rental properties must now be insulated. By July 2021 they must also comply with the new healthy homes standards within 90 days of any new tenancy starting.
These set minimum standards for rentals in relation to heating, insulation, ventilation, draught stopping, and "moisture ingress".
Some homeowners can also secure financial grants to help buy heating and insulation for their family homes.