By 1News

Some renters say they are living in awful conditions, describing experiences of holes in roofs, black mould and mushrooms growing from the walls.

The testimonies are part of a booklet released by the Green Party, documenting the current struggles with unhealthy homes and unhelpful landlords some renters are facing.

The party said it received over 700 submissions when it called for people to get in touch.

One person said an unhealthy home and inaction from a landlord contributed to their mother's death from bacterial sepsis.

“I did a Healthy Homes inspection on her rental, and it was very toxic,” they said.

“With holes in the roof unknown to my mum, it had dampness and black mould.”

They said that by the time the diagnosis came in, it was already too late - their mother had been living in the home for 15 years.

“We should have known something because the real estate agent told her the landlord wouldn’t pay to fix anything, so they were ending [their] contract with the landlord.

“We made my mum stop paying rent until they came in to fix it. They never did fix it.”

When their mother died, the person took the Healthy Homes report to the landlord - who allegedly took no responsibility.

“They just went away and fixed it all. But it was too late. Our mum had passed away. Is [there] anything we can do?”

They said the landlord went on to blame the mother for not paying rent.

‘I have never lived in a flat that didn’t form black mould’

In 2019, Stats NZ said more than one in five homes were damp some or all of the time. 

For renters, dampness was more than twice as common than for those who owned their home or held it in a family trust.

Another renter living in Wellington said they have had countless chest and sinus infections while flatting.

“I have never lived in a flat that didn’t form black mould,” they said.

It’s got to the point where they have grown accustomed to a “just put up with it attitude” thanks to inaction from landlords.

Their current house is yellow stickered, and they say the landlords aren’t “wanting to spend money on the dilapidated building”.

“Our oven has never worked, and [we] have mushrooms that grow in one of the bathrooms."

An Auckland couple renting a downstairs room also had mushrooms growing from their bathroom wall because of how damp it was.

One of the renters, Reilly, told 1News their landlord said the damp walls “would dry up on its own and proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it".

The wall never dried.

“I’ve lived in quite a few rentals growing up, but I’ve never seen that before.”

Reilly said the flat was covered in mould and would become very cold in the winter.

The couple moved out two months later as they weren’t on the lease but were worried for those still living there.

“One of them would do repairs (with the landlord's knowledge) and bill him but receive either no response or a box of beers."

Call for rental WOFs and a registry for property managers and landlords

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick told 1News that New Zealand’s rentals are “demonstrably unfit for purpose”, which needs to change.

She wants to see rental WOFs and a registry for property managers and landlords.

“Introduce some sanity, some rationale and predictability into rent increases,” the Auckland Central MP said.

A number of renters 1News contacted declined to comment on the record, fearing they may face retribution from landlords.

Swarbrick attributed this to a “power imbalance” between renters and landlords.

She said the party has faced “pushback from status quo” when speaking in the media about rentals, saying things need to change.

“They are terrified to go through the process, even with the Tenancy Tribunal, because they don’t want to have what they perceive to be a black mark against their name.”

Swarbrick believes the issue of unhealthy homes is likely to be widespread, according to anecdotal evidence.

“Based on the hundreds of stories that we’ve had, this is absolutely the tip of the iceberg.”

The Greens are making a housing announcement this weekend, which 1News understands will focus heavily on renters.

For Reilly, they want to see more care in the industry.

“I would love to see landlords show more genuine care for the property and the people living in it.”

Here’s what other political parties had to say

Associate Housing Minister Barbara Edmonds told 1News that while the Government is "committed to ensuring that every New Zealander has a warm, dry place to live", things like rental WOFs aren't "on [its] work programme".

"We're focused on the implementation and monitoring of the Healthy Homes Standards.

"Through the Healthy Homes Standards, we're ensuring rental properties comply with heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture, and draught standards."

She highlighted how the 2021 Budget allocated $16 million over four years for proactive investigation and enforcement of the standards.

"This includes raising landlord and tenant awareness of their obligations.

"As part of our manifesto commitments, we're also working to regulate the residential property management sector to protect both renters and landlords."

ACT's Brooke van Velden said the Green Party was "the biggest barrier to better housing".

"Their policies of increasing regulation and making it harder to put rentals on the market will only mean [fewer] New Zealanders find it possible to access affordable rentals. They're punishing the very people they claim to want to help.

"Last week TradeMe reported that median weekly rental prices rose to a record high of $610 for May, just three months after reaching $600 for the first time. People are struggling to find places to live, the answer is to make it easier to build and entice people into putting rentals on the market."

National’s housing spokesperson Chris Bishop said “policies like those advanced by the Greens will harm the very people they’re trying to help. We need more landlords in the market to put downward pressure on rents”. 

National says it will bring back interest deductibility, make ‘common sense’ changes to tenancy laws and boost housing supply through its Going for Housing Growth plan if elected.

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