A family who rented a house so ridden with mould and damp it was uninhabitable and caused long-term health problems for their newborn child, have been awarded thousands in compensation.
Their landlord, Cassowary Limited, was recently found by the Tenancy Tribunal to have committed “unlawful acts” after breaching Healthy Homes standards.
Cassowary has been ordered to pay the family $15,932 in compensation and exemplary damages.
The tenants, who have name suppression, lived in the Christchurch house from November 2020 to October 2022 and during that time endured mould, damp, bacteria, and a leaking water main.
A report from an independent assessor paid for by the tenants found high levels of mould and bacteria in the home and suggested they vacate until repairs had been made.
The family’s youngest member, a baby boy, developed respiratory problems because of the conditions, and his mum said this stopped her returning to work.
When they renewed their tenancy at the end of 2021, including a $30 increase in rent, a Healthy Homes statement was not provided.
But in January 2022, the landlord provided a statement that said the house already complied with the standards.
A document from Pink Fit in 2018, which said there was an exemption for underfloor insulation, was the only assessment provided and there was no evidence the property was compliant, according to the tribunal.
In May 2022 the Christchurch City Council told the family they were high water users.
The usage was traced back to a burst or broken water main, and usage had been high for almost a year.
The family became so frustrated by delays, they asked for an independent Healthy Homes assessment and this was completed in July.
It found noncompliance with drainage, draught stopping, insulation and ground barrier standards.
Although repairs had been made, the family continued to have issues, including their children who suffered respiratory illnesses, and a further report showed high levels of bacteria and mould in the house.
The levels were so high that advice from K2 Environmental who inspected the house said the family shouldn’t be there until repairs were made. The report cost the tenants $4162.
“The tenants should not have been put to the expense of trying to satisfy themselves that the property was habitable following repairs, when their children were very unwell and when further maintenance was required,” tribunal adjudicator Rebecca Morgan said.
A building services company gave advice to Cassowary that high moisture readings weren’t detected but their assessment was based on a visual inspection and didn’t test for mould or bacteria.
Medical evidence from the family brought to the tribunal showed the house directly contributed to their baby’s respiratory issues.
The family sought compensation for lost wages and the long-term impacts it had on their son’s health.
The landlord disputed the family’s claims and said the issues were dealt with promptly when they were brought to their attention.
A spokesperson for the landlord acknowledged that the July 2022 Healthy Homes assessment identified non-compliance, but said they were entitled to rely on a previous report which identified insulation exemptions.
The tribunal said it may have been reasonable to rely on the previous insulation report, but there was no evidence they checked if other areas of the home were up to scratch.
The July 2022 report showed the house did not meet standards, with the compliance date five months prior, and issues with insulation, moisture ingress and drainage at the top of the list.
The tribunal found the landlord had breached its obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.
“I find that they have committed unlawful acts,” Morgan said.
“The failures and resulting mould and dampness issues caused significant distress to the tenants.”