To smell a dead rat, tribunal adjudicator will personally visit tenant's home
Dead rat claims have caused a stink that cannot be resolved in court, so a Tenancy Tribunal adjudicator will visit a rental property to smell the house for himself.
Wellington tenant Stuart MacIntosh said his unwanted rodent flatmates expired under kitchen floorboards and in his roof, and their smell made the house virtually uninhabitable.
Property management firm Quinovic said it had done everything it could to help, and pest controllers sent to the Aro Valley house could not smell rancid rats.
Adjudicator Brent Smallbone said both parties at the tribunal hearing in Wellington District Court on Tuesday agreed there had been rats at the Aro St property.
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But the scale and persistence of any lingering stench was disputed, so Smallbone will pay a site visit to gather evidence with his nose.
At one point on Tuesday, it seemed both parties might leave the court for an impromptu field trip.
"I bet you would smell it today," MacIntosh said. "I'm just living among decomposing rat corpses."
But the site visit was pencilled in for Wednesday morning.
MacIntosh said live rats did not especially bother him, but "I'm not used to having to live alongside decomposing dead ones".
He said Quinovic sent an exterminator round twice, but nobody removed reeking rat corpses.
"The first time it stunk out was March."
MacIntosh said the problem resurfaced about September 27, and again about October 12.
He said the stench usually lasted about a fortnight and, to air out the house, he kept windows and doors open, which raised security issues.
During stinky times, he was uncomfortable cooking and storing food at home.
"I was semi-vagrant. I've reached the point where I'd be more happy to end the tenancy ... I'm just not going to be subject to living in these conditions."
Quinovic agent Jo De Jongh said the company sent Pestproof Pest Control staff to the Aro Valley house.
"There was no notice of a dead rodent smell," De Jongh told the tribunal.
She said rats had visited, but there was not a smell, and MacIntosh wanted Quinovic to remove floorboards "to find what may not even be there".
"There's other ways to go about it ... we've done everything we can," she added.
"The fact that you can't get into the ceiling or underneath, that's unfortunate. I really don't know what more we can do."
Smallbone viewed documents, including an affidavit from a friend of MacIntosh, who said the smell made him want to vomit.
He discussed legal issues around landlords' responsibilities and definitions of what made a home "uninhabitable".
But the dispute about any smell remained a hurdle to reaching a decision. "You can't box it up and bring it to the tribunal."
MacIntosh said the worst of the whiff was probably over. He expected that, by Wednesday, it would be "over the bell curve" and he would be able to show Smallbone a property less odious than in recent days.
"I don't expect a meal," the adjudicator quipped.
Smallbone said rats had featured in previous tenancy tribunal cases. In a different property, rats died in a ceiling and left behind a hideous legacy.
"The maggots worked their way down through the ceiling. As the kids and their mum had their breakfast, there were maggots falling down [into their food]."
This was "not the sort of snap, crackle and pop you'd want at breakfast time", he added.