Complaints of 'despicable' mould and leaking prompt Housing NZ to act
Step inside, make yourself at home. Breathe in the mouldy air.
You even get a free shower when you go to the toilet, Craig Ryan says, pointing to the dripping, sagging bathroom ceiling in the Porirua state house he calls home.
Ryan lives there with father Ross and brother Aaron, and they say mould grows relentlessly in the badly ventilated, east-facing house.
But they don't like to complain. "My dad's real old school ... his fear is being left homeless. He doesn't want to poke and prod," Craig said.
"He'll accept any help that's offered, but the fact is, no help's been offered."
Housing New Zealand, however, says that if tenants don't report problems, it's hard to fix anything. But it is acting now, after the Ryans invited Stuff into the Ascot Park house.
Even late morning on an unusually warm midwinter's day, the uncluttered house was musty. Another ceiling, more mildew, more corrosion. In a bedroom, yellowing wallpaper wilts and turns in the damp.
Craig's children Mia-Rose, 3 and Duke-Lincoln, 1, spend time here too, and it was their health he worried about most, he said.
The brothers said contractors who visited recently were so appalled that they advised the family to contact local MPs.
The Ryans said they did spend time and money on cleaning, and trying to warm the house, which was sorely lacking in ventilation. Even frequent scrubbing, cleaning and bleaching was no match for the cold and damp.
When lawyer Paul Surridge learned of the home's condition, he was appalled.
"This is just despicable," he said. "It's not the New Zealand way."
There was a limit to what tenants could do to the house without Housing NZ's approval, he said. "The decent New Zealander would say 'Look, this is horrific.' "
HOUSING NZ REPLIES
Housing NZ said it inspected the property in January, and found no significant problems.
"We were not aware of any issues at the property and, as soon as Mr Ryan contacted us to let us know about his concerns, we arranged for a contractor to visit the property," acting area manager Alice Daniel-Kirk said on Wednesday.
"We've found there's a leak in the roof that we're fixing.
"We work hard to ensure all our homes are warm, dry and healthy, and to make sure our tenants understand what they need to do to keep their homes that way.
"We also note that Mr Ryan does not open windows and also dries clothes inside, which is contributing to a lack of ventilation and moisture issues – as would be the case in any house."
Aaron Ryan said his father did not always open windows in midwinter, because it was obviously too cold.
He disputed some aspects of HNZ's response, but was glad the agency paid a visit and pledged to fix the ceiling at least.
Public Health Association chief executive Warren Lindberg said landlords should not assume tenants always knew how to keep homes ventilated or dry.
"If I was a landlord, I'd be making sure tenants knew enough about how to look after my property, to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen."
Statistics New Zealand's "perceptions of housing quality" report last year found nearly half of renters reported problems with dampness or mould, compared to roughly one-quarter of homeowners.
KEEPING HOMES WARM AND DRY
* Block unused chimneys.
* Stop draughts around doors and windows. Make draught snakes by stuffing socks or pantyhose with newspaper or cushion filling.
* When sunny, open windows and curtains. Close them at sunset. Where permitted, trim branches that block sunlight.
* See if you're eligible for an insulation grant through agencies such as Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority.
* Avoid drying clothes inside.
* Use lids on pots when cooking.
(Source: EnergyWise, Ministry of Social Development)