No compensation for tenant after ‘unacceptable levels’ of mould found in house

Told by property managers there was no mould at the Kāinga Ora property she rented, a frustrated mother pulled up carpet and ripped off wall coverings to reveal “unacceptable levels” she claimed were making her children sick.

The woman, whose name has been suppressed, has since sought an apology and $10,000 in compensation for having to replace furniture and clothing she says was affected by the mould, and for medical costs and emotional harm.

The mother-of-three took the claim to the Tenancy Tribunal, stating that even after being relocated the family was still suffering from health issues.

In the tribunal’s recently released decision, it sets out how tests confirmed a range of moulds at unacceptable levels were present at the Blenheim state house.

However, the tribunal has not upheld the woman’s claim for compensation.

The decision said the first significant event pertaining to mould was in June 2019 when the woman, whose tenancy began in February 2018, reported one of her children had been hospitalised.

She considered it was due to the impact of the mould.

Kāinga Ora then undertook a biological air-quality assessment which reported there was no obvious visible mould within the dwelling and no potentially toxic mould types were in the air or surface.

While moisture levels tested were in the dry range, the report noted wet ceiling beams, indicating the roof was not fully watertight and was likely to support future fungal growth.

The family were accommodated elsewhere for a time so the roof could be thoroughly inspected and any leaks repaired.

But back in the home, the woman continued to raise mould issues with Kāinga Ora.

In September 2021, she complained to the two assigned property managers during a routine inspection.

“The response at that time from the managers was that there was no visible sign or smell of mould requiring action,” the decision stated.

“In frustration, the tenant removed some coverings. This exposed visible evidence of mould which was subsequently tested in late October 2021.

“The test results confirmed a range of moulds present at unacceptable levels behind these coverings.”

The tribunal said while Kāinga Ora had initially failed to address the mould, the lack of clear evidence may have delayed action – until the woman took the steps she did.

“Such a step was clearly out of frustration and reflects her clear belief that mould was having an adverse impact on her family’s health.”

Once the mould was confirmed, Kāinga Ora offered the woman and her family alternative housing but due to personal reasons she preferred to stay in situ.

Two possible options were declined and the use of a motel was deemed unacceptable, the decision said.

“The tenant was open regarding her historic traumas that made the offered alternatives unacceptable to her.”

Kāinga Ora eventually purchased a suitable home to house the family, which the woman was notified of in January this year.

However, a delay in settlement and subsequent preparation work pushed out the date of availability to the tenant.

The tribunal said it was easy to criticise Kāinga Ora for its tardiness regarding the mould, but it had attempted to provide a number of alternatives after it was confirmed.

“The final solution was a significant commitment. The timeframe might have been longer than ideal but the seasonal holiday period added delays.”

While Kāinga Ora had already paid the woman $1100 compensation, which represents around 10 weeks’ rent, she sought more.

“I had to destroy clothing and furniture as mould invaded everything,” she told the tribunal.

But the tribunal ruled the woman failed to establish damage to the items such that disposal and replacement was required, rejecting her claim for further compensation.

“Other reasonable and less expensive mitigation steps could have alleviated her concerns.”

Compensation in regards to the medical costs was also declined, with the tribunal stating it was difficult to clearly link causation with any failure of Kāinga Ora to maintain the property.

In response to the woman’s request for an apology, the tribunal advised that was beyond its jurisdiction.

 – By Tara Shaskey

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