Landlord ordered to pay Refugee family due to pest infestation

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 10 Jan 2021, 1:51PM
Photo / file
Photo / file

Landlord ordered to pay Refugee family due to pest infestation

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 10 Jan 2021, 1:51PM

A refugee family has been awarded close to $2500 after raising concerns about their rental that included maggots in the kitchen and a rat infestation.

The Residential Tenancies Act requires landlords to provide accommodation in a reasonable state of cleanliness - a duty in which the tenants claimed the landlord failed.

Immigration New Zealand and the Red Cross had arranged the Wellington tenancy for the family, who did not speak English fluently.

In March last year, New Zealand went into a level 4 lockdown as part of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic delaying a first inspection until early May when the country entered level 2.

At the inspection a Red Cross support worker advised the property manager of the tenants' concerns about the state of the house.

The tenants told the Tenancy Tribunal they noticed the maggots and rats within a few weeks.

They provided photographic and video evidence of a cracked kitchen bench top which say it was not attached securely to the wall.

They alleged part of it broke off falling on an occupant's foot and that there were also maggots living in the cracks.

"The tenants say they could not use the bench top due to the precarious and unsanitary nature of it," the recent Tenancy Tribunal decision reads.

"They had to barricade the entrance to the kitchen so that their 2-year-old child could not accidentally pull it on himself."

The tenants felt forced to prepare and cook their food on the floor. This has caused health problems for one tenant.

This was raised at the inspection and in two later 14 day Notices to Remedy.

In a response on behalf of the landlord, it was asserted that the bench top was attached securely, cracks were "aesthetic only" and there was no danger of it breaking off.

The Tenancy Tribunal ruled the landlord failed to maintain the bench top to a reasonable standard between the start of the tenancy and when the laminate was installed.

"The cracks allowed maggots to hibernate and created a safety concern for the tenants."

The tenants were able to use the bench after laminate was applied.

A sum of $480 in compensation and $200 in exemplary damages was awarded over this failing.

Window gaps that let in drafts and water resulted in $300 being given to the family.

Another $200 was awarded because there were rats in the premises for the most of the tenancy.

"Their evidence is that their children were traumatised by the rats and the effects have been ongoing," the Tenancy Tribunal decision reads.

"Because of their children's fears they often had broken night's sleep, always had to accompany them to the bathroom and had to sleep together to reassure them. This was extremely stressful for them all."

In reply, the landlord said that a work order was sent to a pest management company, however, no action was taken.

"They accept that they should have followed up but submit that the rats' presence may have been as a result of how the tenants lived."

The property manager also made two unscheduled visits, disrupting an expectation of being able to quietly enjoy the property without interruption.

Considering the evidence on the whole, the tribunal ruled the property manager's behaviour was in breach of section 38 and $300 was awarded in favour of the tenants.

In visiting without an interpreter and not giving the tenants notice so they could arrange one, she was not acting fairly nor transparently, the decision ruled.

"Her behaviour towards the tenants was disrespectful and negligent."

Ultimately, a total of $2546.94 was to be paid by the landlord to the tenants.