Landlords are fined for neglected apartments

Landlords are fined for neglected apartments

A Southland landlord has been ordered to pay more than $20,000 for renting out “severely neglected” flats described by investigators as “one of the worst they had ever seen”.

An investigation into the Mataura property – owned by Hillis Shearing Limited and its directors, William and Sharon Hillis – was launched after a complaint was made about the flats in March 2022.

Researchers from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) discovered “several” problems with the flats.

The problems included a leak in one ceiling; a missing bathroom ceiling; rotten or missing wall panels; damaged or boarded up windows; walls with large gaps and holes; a lack of ceiling and floor insulation; and missing smoke detectors.

In one of the units, the bathroom ceiling had collapsed.

“Investigators were also told that the landlord did not respond to maintenance requests or advise tenants to do so themselves,” MBIE said.

A Tenancy Tribunal order dated April 16 found that Hillis Searing Limited and its directors had failed to maintain the properties; did not meet the insulation requirements of the Healthy Homes standards; had no working smoke detectors in three of the four units; and failed to provide written lease agreements for each tenant.

Judge Rex Woodhouse also ruled that the landlord had failed to comply with the building’s health and safety requirements as the building’s suitability notice had expired in 2017.

“He also noted that photographs of TCIT showed buildings that were dilapidated,” MBIE said.

Some broken and boarded up windows of the Mataura flats.

In their response to the claims, the landlords said the property was initially purchased as a place to live for out-of-town shearers.

However, in 2015 there was less demand for these sharers and the building was no longer needed.

“It became known in the community that the property was vacant and out of goodwill the Hillis’s allowed locals in the community to rent the property to give them a place to live,” the Tribunal ruling said.

The landlords said that over time “things didn’t go well”, with rent going unpaid and the building becoming damaged.

Access to the upstairs, damage to door and stairs, and there was black mold on one of the ceilings.

At some point they say the property was taken over by the Mongrel Mob, making it difficult to manage.

As a result of the tribunal’s findings, the company and its directors were ordered to pay $16,275 in exemplary damages for committing unlawful acts and $5,024 in compensation for failing to maintain the property.

“The effect of these deliberate actions meant that tenants were not provided with the information they should have about the leases and were left living in properties that were unsafe and poorly maintained,” said Brett Wilson, national manager for MBIE’s rental compliance and investigations.

“Ceiling and floor insulation have been mandatory in all rental properties since July 2019.

“The properties should have had insulation by that date, but this was not the case, resulting in tenants living in cold and draughty properties.”

A bathroom wall rotted in one piece and covered with a tarpaulin.

He also criticized the landlord’s failure to install smoke detectors in three of the four properties.

“Smoke detectors save lives. Working smoke detectors are required in all rental properties. Landlords should ensure they have them installed,” Wilson said.

MBIE has also appealed to the court to have the landlords impose a fine for each individual violation, instead of one fine for multiple cases of the same violation, as decided by the Rent Assessment Board.