When we first looked at the property – a six-bedroom house in Mt Roskill, Auckland – everything looked OK. There were enough bedrooms for us all, a small kitchen and the neighbourhood checked out.
We signed a two-year lease; the landlord lived abroad, so one of the major property management companies was our go-between.
The first time it rained, three rooms leaked so much that water was pouring inside where the walls and ceiling had disintegrated.
The property managers arranged for a builder to look at the structure, but the landlord refused to do repairs or address costs.
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The elements on the stovetop kept failing, and the landlord also failed to fix this. For several months, our primary method of cooking was barbecuing, sheltered by an umbrella when it rained.
The landlord and property agents performed no regular inspections during the two-year lease. We found this odd, as a seasonal and pre-winter check is recommended for property owners.
We were told that if we exited the lease early, we would lose our bond and be taken to the Tenancy Tribunal. We would then face the liability of the remaining term of the lease.
We all became very sick.
The walls were so wet that if you pressed your hand against the surface it would crumple. We learnt to avoid touching the walls when it rained.
We were going through dehumidifiers, buckets, DampRid and Exit Mould like crazy, buying in bulk at hardware stores to try to maintain some dryness in the place.
The worst bit was that the power would frequently cut out because of all the moisture inside the walls. Again, no repairs were provided by the landlord, so we had to go to the electrical trade store to source materials for basic repairs.
The final inspection was laughable.
The landlord expected us to repair the structural leak in the cracked roof and exterior walls and repaint the house. While we had done everything we could to ensure the interior and grounds were maintained we lost the bond – because the landlord did not want to give it back.
The reasoning for withholding the bond in their statement was that the walls were leaking, which we had assumed both owning parties were aware of. We had been contacting them constantly for two years, asking them to repair the leaks.
Besides the issues we had with our absentee landlord, we also had problems with the neighbours. We were close to the Mt Roskill shops and we were robbed the day after we moved in, and again a while later.
Squatters would regularly camp in and set fire to the building next door. First they burnt the neighbouring property out, and after that they lit campfires in the rubble.
We had the police on speed dial and jokingly referred to it as the halfway house – halfway down Dominion Rd.
We haven’t gone into a lease agreement since, and we will never trust overseas landlords again – there’s no incentive for them to abide by laws and requirements.
Being stuck in a house that is unsafe for human residence and having a landlord delay repairs was unjust, especially as the contract required the property to be liveable and maintained.
Our lack of legal representation and income prevented us from being able to move, and from being able to have justice and remediation.
We felt intimidated at times and could not fully recover from the illnesses we suffered while living in the house. This affected our capability, which made working multiple jobs and full-time study far more difficult than it should have been.
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I would advise other people not to rely on, or trust, anyone or anything. Even if there is a contract, it is naive to believe it will be followed.
It’s also important to have a fallback plan. Make sure there’s somewhere you can go if you need to get out, and protect against theft or damage by making back-ups of items such as photos and documents. Always have insurance.
Our landlord didn’t care about us, or the property they owned.
They cared about one thing: money.
And now the property is being sold for more than $1 million. Sans repairs, of course.
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