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Landlord Ordered To Pay After Child Contracts Rheumatic Heart Disease Due To Substandard Housing

A Christchurch landlord has been ordered to pay $38,626.12 after a Tenancy Tribunal hearing found multiple breaches that resulted in a child living at the home being diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, following action taken by MBIE’s Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team (TCIT).

Landlords Anne and Roger Stocker, now residing in Australia, were found to have breached the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (RTA) by failing to maintain the property in respect of health and safety matters, failing to complete general maintenance, failing to appoint an agent while not residing in New Zealand, not lodging bonds, and not complying with smoke alarm requirements and insulation statement requirements.

These breaches related to a Christchurch rental property housing a vulnerable Pasifika family over a number of years. The substandard conditions of the property are believed to have significantly contributed to a child developing rheumatic heart disease which will have a continuous impact on their life. The conditions affected the family in many ways including rooms being unusable due to their condition and tenants’ possessions having to be destroyed due to mould and dampness.

Tenancy Compliance and Investigations National Manager Steve Watson said that the evidence of harm from the poor condition of the property shows Anne and Roger Stocker demonstrated deliberate wilful non-compliance as landlords. “There is no justification for the poor behaviour of the landlords, which amounted to serious exploitation. The landlords were aware of the condition of the property yet failed to take any steps to prevent harm to the occupants and showed no concern for the serious health implications on the young child living in the house.”

“The most concerning thing about this case is the length of time the tenants had to live in a substandard property which severely impacted their health and that of their young child, as well as their daily lives.”

The Tenancy Tribunal found that the landlords were aware of the breaches of the RTA that they had committed and continued to manage the tenancy in an unacceptable manner, without engaging or showing any willingness to remedy any of the harm and health problems they caused the tenants..

The landlords seemed to be motivated by the fact the tenants had nowhere else to go and were vulnerable to exploitation. As the adjudicator said “the tenant was entitled to a warm, dry and safe home; what the tenant got was anything but warm, dry and safe”.

The tenancy was referred to TCIT by the Christchurch City Council (CCC). CCC had conducted their own investigation initiated by a Canterbury DHB referral, as a child who had been living at the property had been admitted to hospital due to their health condition. The Tenancy Tribunal finding states that a Senior Environmental Health Officer from CCC concluded that the premises were so affected by mould and damp as to be uninhabitable, and that on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 was the worst measure, the premises were at level 9 for inhabitability.

This case highlights that agencies are committed to working together to address any breaches of the RTA and other legislation designed to protect tenants, and keep them warm, dry, and safe.

TCIT will always try to work with landlords first to help them understand and comply with the requirements of tenancy law. However where there is a serious or ongoing breaches of the RTA, we will use the enforcement tools available to us as the regulator. TCIT continues to focus on significant or ongoing breaches of the RTA which pose a serious risk to vulnerable tenants.

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