5 Jun 2015

Tent 'better option' for Chch renters

7:38 am on 5 June 2015

A Christchurch family has found the rental market in the city so tough they opted to live in a tent rather than put up with another substandard property.

Katrina Collins with children Fenris, 11, (left) and nine-year-old Kaia.

Katrina Collins with children Fenris, 11, (left) and nine-year-old Kaia. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Michael Lucas and Katrina Collins moved out of their rental property after someone carrying out an EQC check warned them to be careful breathing near a damaged door because of exposed asbestos.

The couple moved into the rental property in South Brighton in February this year.

The property looked a bit rough with cladding missing from the exterior and part of the front of the house propped up, but the family took up the tenancy because they were running out of time to find a new home.

Soon they found the cladding was the least of the problems. There were big cracks and splits along the wallpaper and gaps around many of the windows.

New carpet was loosely laid on top of old carpet, and on the bottom layer of carpet there were big water stains. Water coming out of the taps had a steady flow of grit in it.

Ms Collins and their two children soon became unwell.

She said the real clincher was when they were visited by someone sent by the Earthquake Commission, who pointed out damage around the back door.

"He said just be really careful how you breathe out there, that's exposed asbestos."

With that the couple moved out, and took the property manager to the Tenancy Tribunal, claiming the house was not in a standard fit to be lived in.

Michael Lucas said they felt they had a strong case because they had specifically asked the property manager for an assurance the house was in a safe and sound condition. However they lost their tenancy tribunal case.

Cheap, damaged houses

Tenancy Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said there a growing number of substandard homes were being rented out in Christchurch.

Some were cheap damaged houses bought from people who didn't have insurance cover, while others were owned by people who kept their insurance payout rather than spending it on repairs.

Ms Gatonyi said landlords had a legal obligation to ensure properties meet certain standards but not enough was done to enforce the rules.

"We are calling for a much more robust compliance," said Ms Gatonyi. "The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment compliance unit is under-funded, under-resourced and under-active. And it's time it stepped up and recognised have a huge problem here, not just in Christchurch, but across the country."

Ms Gatonyi would like to see a warrant of fitness system introduced for rental properties.

Regulation not the solution

Martin Evans, owner of A1 Property Managers Ltd and president of the Independent Property Managers Association, said most managers will ensure tenants are told about the true condition of a house.

Despite a shortage of good low cost rentals in Christchurch he did not see the need for a warrant of fitness system.

"Its just more regulation, and once the warrant of fitness comes in they will just add to it.

"For example, someone might slip on a deck and then all decks will have to be painted with non-slip paint.

"I think tenants should be more buyer aware, and aware of what they are going into. But I certainly think that all homes shold be well insulated, well heated and draft proof."

Michael Lucas and Katrina Collins are so fed up with the Christchurch rental market that since March they have been living in a tent in a family member's back yard, and say it is definitely a better option for their family.

"The water's drinkable," said Mr Lucas. "It's more weathertight - and it's a tent! And the air wasn't potentially causing us to have cancer twenty year's down the track."

The couple have managed to save the deposit to buy a house and will shortly move into their own home.

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