The first set of regulations for Healthy Homes Standards come into force in just two weeks, but there's concern some homes will still not be up to scratch. 1 NEWS has discovered a group of Wellington renters have been living with holes in their bathroom floor and a bug infestation.
The smell of dampness and decay hits as soon as you walk in the door.
Not only is this Newtown flat mouldy and damp, a group of women have been living with holes in their bathroom floor for more six months – something that was promised to be fixed by mid-March.
The home is rented for $870 per week as a four-bedroom house. Property websites OneRoof and homes.co.nz list the home as a two-bedroom property.
Piper Clare and Samantha Brown told 1 NEWS they felt like they’d hit brick walls every time they asked for things to be fixed.
“It doesn’t seem to be an urgent problem to them,” Clare said.
One of the four flatmates who did not want to be identified also received blisters from a suspected lax beetle infestation.
The beetles are attracted to rotten wood and leak fluid onto human skin if they come into contact with it.
“She couldn’t sit down properly for a while, she had to stand or lie on her back because it hurt too much to sit,” Brown said.
The blisters became infected while healing. It meant the woman had to take a course of antibiotics prescribed by her doctor.
Since the women lodged a complaint about the house to the company managing it, 1 NEWS understands the business has said it will reimburse the tenant for her medical bills, telling the women it was “unfortunate” the tenant had suffered the blisters.
The property is managed by boutique Wellington realty business Lowe & Co.
1 NEWS can reveal the owners of the property both work for the company, too.
When the Victoria University of Wellington students signed the tenancy agreement in December 2020, an additional agreement was signed with the property manager stating the holes in the bathroom floor would be fixed “within the first three months of the tenancy”.
As of June 18, 2021, the holes still had not been fixed.
After filing a complaint to Lowe & Co about the myriad of issues, the women were told the company could not locate anywhere in writing an agreement regarding the holes, and that the property manager did not recall it.
It was only after enquiries from 1 NEWS that the company acknowledged the document did exist, but insisted the problem “has not been ignored” bur rather had “not been dealt with in a timely way, partly for reasons beyond our control” citing a builder who failed to show up.
Lowe & Co says it is working to find a solution now, with a second contractor hired to repair the bathroom.
Clare said during his recent visit, the contractor was worried about someone falling through the rotting wood.
“He said that the whole bathroom needed to be replaced and to not stand on the floor because he was afraid one of us would fall through.”
Other problems in the bathroom include cracks in the shower wall, with the structure moving to the touch.
Also listed in the tenants’ complaint was having to throw clothes out after they’d gone mouldy.
The company said it did not find this acceptable, but also noted “this is a Wellington risk which requires tenant management”.
1 NEWS also understands it has offered to reimburse the tenant with the beetle blisters, as she threw her bedding out after the incident.
Another issue was a frequent leak from part of the ceiling near the kitchen. The girls leave towels down on the floor permanently as a result of this.
The company, again, said this was not acceptable, but that the issue was “under action”.
There is also a rodent problem. A pest controller also recently visited the home and found rat droppings in the ceiling.
The women had previously spotted mice in the home, so assumed the noises late at night were from those.
Clare and Brown claim the pest controller audibly said “gross” in response to what he found in the ceiling and that “you don’t usually get both of them [rats and mice]".
He also pointed to a gap between the guttering and the roof which was close to tree branches as the possibly entry point for the rodents.
Ashok Jacob of Renters United said that the house was “obviously contrary to human health”.
“These sorts of places are crying out to be regulated because they’re harming so many people.”
He said it wasn’t just students who had to live in houses like this, but professionals and families too.
“The reality is in Wellington and all over the country, people with families are still living in places like this because of the state of properties in our country,” he told 1 NEWS.
The girls say they’ve been asked by Lowe & Co if they want to move out. The company says there will be no fee for breaking the lease early.
It also told 1 NEWS it accepts responsibility for the way the property has been managed, indicating there has since been a change in property manager recently.
The girls say moving out would place another problem on their hands: finding a new rental property.
It took them five months to find the one they’re currently having so many problems with.
“It just feels like a huge power imbalance. It feels like we can’t do anything and they’re in charge and they know they have an upper hand on us so they won’t do anything about it.
“We know flats in Wellington aren’t exactly the best, but if they fixed these things it would be liveable.”
The company has also offered to waive rent for the amount of time it takes for the bathroom renovations to be carried out – estimated at around three weeks.
It will also pay for any moving costs incurred.
1 NEWS described the state of the house as it was on June 16, 2021 to the Minister for Building and Construction Poto Williams.
In response, she said: “Nobody should be living in these conditions."
The first set of regulations for the Healthy Homes Standard come into force in just two weeks.
From July, all private rental properties will have to meet the Healthy Homes regulations within 90 days of any new tenancy, including tenancy renewals.
The women have filed a complaint with the Tenancy Services Compliance and Investigations Team, after filing a 14-day notice for the issues to be fixed.
The team can use a number of interventions and enforcement activities to make sure landlords comply with their obligations under the Act.
Additional reporting by Nichola Scarlett.
If you know anything more about this story, please contact 1 NEWS reporter Imogen Wells – firstname.lastname@example.org