AN Opotiki woman who lived in a cold, damp, illegal dwelling has been awarded $4147 by the Tenancy Tribunal.
Erina Joan Williams rented a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a commercial building in Church Street for five months between May and October last year.
The apartment did not have a residential consent. While it was furnished, it had concrete floors and just two windows – one at either end of the apartment – and only skylights in the bedrooms, which provided some light but continually dripped with condensation.
Thirty minutes before the tribunal hearing in Whakatane last month, Tony Koia, who is director and shareholder of Koia Investment Opotiki Limited, the landlord of the property, emailed to say he would be unable to attend because he lived in Auckland and was working in Queenstown.
Mr Koia is an award-winning architect, with offices in Auckland and Queenstown.
Ms Williams paid a weekly rent of $270 to live in the apartment with her two children.
Soon after moving in, she asked Mr Koia to confirm there was no asbestos in the ceiling and the apartment was safe to live in, the tenany tribunal said.
He confirmed there was no asbestos in the ceiling but because he failed to confirm the property was safe to live in, Ms Williams called Opotiki District Council to check whether it was consented for habitation.
A council inspection in June 2018 found the apartment was not consented for residential accommodation, and the council issued a Notice to Fix that required Mr Koia to stop letting the apartment almost immediately.
He was given notice to get the necessary consent by the end of September.
The council advised Ms Williams to move out, but she was unable to find alternative accommodation until a few months later.
She eventually moved out in October and told the tribunal that, to the best of her knowledge, the landlord had taken no steps to comply with the council notice before she left.
Ms Williams also asked the tribunal for repayment of her $540 bond, which Tenancy Services found was never lodged.
The tribunal said the impact of Mr Koia not lodging the bond was considerable. Ms Williams was stressed and inconvenienced.
The tribunal said a landlord had an obligation to provide and maintain premises in a reasonable state of repair.
“Minimum standards of housing require that every habitable room (including a bedroom) have a window installed in a wall so that adequate light is emitted and that can be opened for the admission of air.
“Every living room must have a fireplace or other form of heating and every house must be provided free from dampness.”
During her tenancy, Ms Williams raised concerns about a lack of carpet, a heat pump not being installed, leaks and condensation forming, and water dripping from the skylights in each of the three bedrooms. Chattels including the stove, washing machine, toaster and dryer were not working properly.
The landlord attended to a few of the problems, including repairing the tin roof, but most were not fixed and heating was not provided.
The tribunal said: “The apartment was not consented for residential use. It also breached basic standards by not having windows in bedrooms for light to permeate and air to breathe and ventilate, no heating provided, and not keeping it free from dampness.
“Chattels provided as part of the tenancy were not in a reasonable state of repair and requests to fix were ignored. The overall standard was not reasonable.”
The tribunal said the lack of natural light and ventilation, general cold and discomfort from poor lighting, concrete floors, lack of heating and inoperable appliances were significant breaches that could have resulted in other safety concerns.
In the emails provided, the landlord showed a lack of willingness to address the issues and also failed to attend promptly to the council’s Notice to Fix.
Koia Investments Opotiki has been ordered to pay Williams $2987 in compensation for providing a cold, damp home, $600 for not lodging the bond, $540 bond refund and $20 in costs.