Auckland landlord taken to task by Tenancy Tribunal after mum details shocking conditions of Great South Rd rental property

Auckland landlord taken to task by Tenancy Tribunal after mum details shocking conditions of Great South Rd rental property
Photo credit: Getty

An Auckland mum has detailed how insects and larvae would crawl out of a hole above her mould-infested shower in a dilapidated Otahuhu flat she rented with her three children.

Georgina Matautu's tenancy was marred by her landlord's repeated failures to rectify the property's shocking state of disrepair, which included a door handle so damaged, the mum-of-three couldn't secure her flat. The ground-floor apartment's laundry and bathroom were also overrun with extensive black mould, the Tenancy Tribunal heard. 

Reliable Rental Management has been ordered to pay Matautu $4462.52 in compensation for the landlord's failure to provide, repair and maintain the property in a reasonable condition, according to a report released by the tribunal.

The tribunal heard Matautu moved into the Otahuhu unit on Great South Road with her young son in January 2018. Due to the property's bathroom being repainted, the mould was not evident at the beginning of her tenancy. Yet during the year, black mould became increasingly apparent on the walls and ceilings throughout the property. Photographs showed the mould ingrained into the shower box and timber frame, with spots emerging beneath the flaking paint that had peeled off in Matautu's efforts to remove the fungus.

The tenant provided evidence that the mould had a direct impact on her children's health, with her eldest son admitted to hospital twice in 2019 for pneumonia and a respiratory infection. In September 2019, the woman's newborn developed rhinovirus bronchiolitis and was found unresponsive in his bed. The baby, who was born prematurely, was rushed to hospital and spent time in the paediatric intensive care unit.

Matautu told the tribunal that one doctor had suggested the baby's condition may have been caused by inhaling the mould spores.

Counties Manukau Health had also previously written to Housing New Zealand, saying they believed the family were living in cold and damp conditions considered "unsuitable in supporting the recovery and maintaining the wellbeing of a young child with ongoing health issues".

A social worker who attended the property told the tribunal that in addition to the mould, the property had an ineffective smoke alarm and issues with rat infestation.

According to the report, Matautu refused to shower her children at the property due to the bathroom's condition, and would instead wash them at the houses of extended family members. The tribunal heard that a hole in the shower allowed insects and larvae to fall from the ceiling while the mother washed. 

In their own submissions to the tribunal, dated July 15, the landlord acknowledged the shower "required maintenance", but declared it was "perfectly usable".

However tribunal adjudicator, Toni Prowse, said the photos provided by Matautu spoke for themselves. The tenant was advised during an inspection in March 2019 to use sugar water to scrub off the mould, which Prowse agreed "had little to no effect".

"She tells me that she would have to extensively clean the mould weekly, particularly in the bathroom and laundry," says the report.

"She said that she used to use vinegar, but after the inspection in March [2019] where the property manager told her she had to use sugar water she did that, but it had little or no effect."

In her decision, Prowse noted it was likely the fungal growth had contributed to, and exacerbated, the children's health issues. She also agreed that the family was unable to use the bathroom and laundry due to the mould and the shower box's state of disrepair.

"The landlord should have made more extensive investigation about what was causing the mould problem at the property after identifying it in the first inspection report in March and acted quickly to remedy the situation," Prowse wrote.

"I therefore consider it appropriate to grant the tenant a rebate of 50 percent of her rent for the time that the defect was known to the landlord to the end of the tenancy. 

"This amount takes into account general damages, for stress, inconvenience, health problems and loss of amenity, including that the tenant had to stay in hospital for at least two weeks because of her children’s health conditions which were at least in part attributable to the mould problem, and yet paid full rent over this time."

The landlord has claimed Matautu contributed to the state of the flat by having more people living in the property than permitted on the tenancy agreement. The contract stated just one adult and one child could live in the ground-floor space. Although Matautu moved into the property with her son, she had two more children during the tenancy. 

Prowse was satisfied that the two additional children in the unit did not contribute to the property's disrepair. A social worker agreed the unit provided sufficient space for a mum and three children.

However, Prowse did not believe there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the hole in the shower was an ongoing issue.

During the March inspection, the landlord noted that a repair man should be sent to fix the damaged door handle, but never did. By the end of Matautu's tenancy, the handle had fallen out and the mother was forced to use a sock to fill the hole left behind, meaning she had no way of securing the apartment. Matautu was awarded $200 in compensation for the door handle.

The landlord claimed $637.97 in rent arrears, $505.52 in water arrears, and was given compensation for window and door repairs, both of which Matautu accepted liability for.

The Bond Centre has also been ordered to pay Matautu the bond of $1280.