A community housing provider that housed a vulnerable whānau in a mould-ridden house with rotting walls, floors and window sills has been ordered to pay more than $2000 in damages.
In a case the Tenancy Tribunal says undermined public confidence in the social housing sector, the adjudicator found Porirua Whānau Centre (PWC) failed its mission to ensure families could access a safe, warm and affordable home.
single mother and two children placed into her care through Oranga Tamariki, lived in the Porirua house from early January.
As the tenant's mother was a trustee of PWC, she approached them for help after the family had to urgently move to the area.
PWC is a registered housing provider for the Wellington Region. It's also one of six family social service centres in Aotearoa providing education and social service programmes to
families and children in the community.
The charitable trust owns 13 properties and manages four in the region, under its stated mission "to ensure whānau have an opportunity to access safe, warm and affordable housing".
But when the tenant saw the house in late December, she noticed it was littered with someone else's belongings.
A removal contractor's foot then sunk through the flooring as they tried to move in her belongings.
In early January, when the family moved in, the tenant says she was shocked to see the house still in that state and contacted PWC's operations manager, who inspected the rental and prepared a report.
The report found "serious shortcomings" at the house, including holes in the doors and walls, a gaping hole in the hallway floor near the hot water cylinder; mould and damp
throughout including underneath carpet and on window sills, walls and floors to
the extent that some areas were rotting; window latches missing throughout, a broken oven and a rotting laundry.
After the report the tenant emailed her landlord several times to chase up the desperately needed repairs.
Although the landlord completed some of the necessary remedies, many of the listed problems were completely ignored until the end of the tenancy in July.
The family were given a second-hand oven, only for it to break shortly afterwards.
Despite again calling the landlord, nothing was done and the whānau lived without a working oven for months.
The rental was also plagued with mould, which the tenant told the tribunal she cleaned every few days to no avail.
It exacerbated her health conditions, including multiple sclerosis, asthma and diabetes, the tribunal heard. The two children also had a history of bronchiolitis.
"She [the tenant] produced a letter from their medical practitioner confirming that the state of the premises (recurring mould and damp) likely contributed to a developing asthma condition with one child and the stress of the poor housing situation was adding to the fatigue caused by her health conditions," the decision read.
But PWC chief executive Ms Kelly argued that the tribunal should put the tenant's complaints and exacerbating health concerns into context.
Kelly told the tribunal PWC "went out on a limb" to help the whānau when they were in urgent need of accommodation, at the request of the tenant's son.
"She believes that PWC addressed the major repair issues to achieve that outcome and make the property 'liveable'," the decision read.
Kelly told the tribunal PWC intended to make the necessary repairs - but their contracted maintenance worker was busy, it was hard to work around the tenant's two children to undertake repairs, and restrictions around accessing the property during Covid-19 made it difficult.
But although it was laudable PWC was willing to help the tenant in a desperate situation, adjudicator Stirling said that didn't absolve the landlord from its obligation to provide suitable housing.
"While there was no evidence from an appropriate expert that the property was uninhabitable, the evidence that was produced shows that it was well below an acceptable standard and significant cleaning and repair work should have been
carried out before it was rented to anyone," they found.
"Recurring mould and soft, rotting walls, floors and window sills caused by damp
conditions are simply not acceptable."
The poor conditions the family were forced to live in were of note as the general public has a vested interest in social housing, Stirling wrote.
"This case brings into question the credibility of that system and undermines public confidence that the system is meeting the needs of those eligible for assistance."
PWC was ordered to pay the tenant a total of $2320.44, made up of compensation and exemplary damages for the state of the property, and the filing fee reimbursement.