“It should be bowled”

The Southland Times published an article recently that tells the story of three sets of renters in the same terrible house in Invercargill. It’s an interesting piece because it sums up a lot of the issues with our private rental market. Each tenant was made sick by their home, but was unable to address the issue.

Jono Taylor and his three friends lived in the house about two years ago. Jono described the house as “leaky, mouldy and very cold” and said that he suffered from colds when he lived there. He didn’t complain to the property manager – as I’ve argued recently, there’s a lot of disincentives to make a complaint. 

Next, Monica Toretto and her two sons moved in. They stayed for about a year. She described the house as “very drafty. There are gaps in the walls, and it was really, really damp.” Toretto was unable to air the house because the windows were swollen shut, and she could open them without a hammer. The family suffered from colds. When Toretto moved in, she provided the property manager with a list of problems. The property manager told her that the landlord had said she must “take it as it is;” presumably, there were not other houses available to Toretto in her price range.

Four months ago, Dwayne Osborne, his partner and their three year old daughter moved in. The property manager told him that housing conditions had not been a problem with previous tenants. Osborne described the property as mouldy, leaky, rotten and full of holes. The family slept together in the lounge to keep warm. Osborne was admitted to hospital with pneumonia in both lungs. His hospital records note his housing conditions. He said the house almost killed him, and that “it should be bowled”.

Their experience of the three lots of tenants sums up a couple of problems for New Zealand’s private rental sector. Substandard housing which causes health problems. Tenants moving in to substandard housing without knowing the extent of its issues. Tenants moving in to substandard housing knowing about its issues because there’s no other options, and unable to get the landlord to fix the issues. Tenants not complaining about the issues in the houses because there’s inbuilt disincentives to.

The saddest thing is that despite the bravery of these tenants in speaking out about this house, under current legislation, it’s very difficult to make sure a house it’s fixed up before it’s rented out again. Chances are, this house will be rented out to someone else in the same condition. New tenants will suffer the health consequences and undergo the stress of moving out as soon as they are able.

This isn’t just expensive, unfair and impractical. It’s wrong. Everyone has the right to quality housing.

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