An exposed rats' nest found in an Auckland property may have caused a pregnant woman to become seriously ill with a inflamed brain.
The Tenancy Tribunal today found a landlord in breach of the Residential Tenancies Act for not repairing a hole in the ceiling after a woman living at the South Auckland property was rushed to hospital with encephalitis.
Nerina and Joseph Emery were awarded $1500 in exemplary damages and $2000 for their loss of living standards by Adjudicator Mike Edison in September.
Emery's sister, who was living at the property, reportedly started experiencing hallucinations and seeing people that weren't there when she was four months pregnant in March.
Edison said she could have got her medical condition from the condition of the property but there was not enough evidence to prove it.
"The award would have been much higher if it had been established that Ms Emery's sister became sick because of the condition of the kitchen ceiling."
The landlord, Pranav Gulati, argued that the pest issue was caused by the tenants not living hygienically.
However, Edison said it was the tenant's exposure to a possible health risk that
was the relevant factor when considering exemplary damages.
"Any breach of the tenants' obligation to keep the property reasonably clean and tidy gives rise to a separate claim for compensation."
Emery first raised the issue of rats biting through a water pipe above the kitchen causing a leak in the kitchen with their landlord in July last year.
The hole was repaired in August last year but reoccurred in November when a handyman attended to the hazard by ripping it open and leaving a mess and an hole until the tenancy finished in March this year.
Emery's sister became ill near the end of the tenancy was admitted to Middlemore Hospital in April.
A text message presented in evidence showed Gulati knew about the leak in the ceiling from November and promptly provided the details of a plumber who left the hole in a mess.
Several delays continued until March, with Gulati saying the problem slipped his mind.
Edison said he accepted Gulati did not deliberately breach his obligations as landlord but he had an obligation to ensure the ceiling roof was repaired within an appropriate timeframe.
"The effect of the unlawful act was that Ms Emery had a hole in the kitchen ceiling for several months, but it also potentially exposed the tenant and others living at the property to health risks associated with vermin."