‘I feel like we’re never going to find a new home,’ I said to my partner, Cameron, then 29.
We were renting a granny flat with our daughter, Te Aurpouri, three, but the owners had recently sold it so we had to move out.
We’d looked at dozens of places already, but with a dog, cat and two birds, it wasn’t easy to find the perfect fit.
Then we viewed a house for lease in Papakura.
‘We need someone in this week,’ the landlord, Avendra Raj, said.
At $520 a week, it was a bit of a stretch, but we were desperate and the timing was perfect.
‘Sometimes in winter the house might have some drainage problems,’ Aven said, handing over the keys. ‘But it’s nothing to worry about.’
Pushing the comment to the back of my mind, I busied myself around the house to make it feel like home.
The following month, Cameron and I were delighted to discover I was pregnant again. But my joy soon turned to stress when winter arrived.
The house was as cold as ice. We’d dress in layers of clothes, but nothing seemed to keep us warm.
We also noticed that mould had built up on the window of our daughter’s bedroom and spread across the curtains.
No matter how much we cleaned, we just couldn’t get rid of it.
‘This doesn’t seem normal,’ I said to Cameron.
But when we reported it, Aven told us to keep using mould removal products.
Then, in October 2017, our daughter Atamarie arrived four weeks early. Being born prematurely meant she was more susceptible to infections.
So, when she started getting sick at eight weeks, I put it down to her immune system not being fully developed.
Over the next five months though, my poor girl always seemed under the weather.
Suffering from a constant runny nose and cough, she had to be soothed through the night.
Then, in May 2018, Atamarie was hospitalised with bronchitis.
Thankfully, she was discharged the following day.
That same week, we’d been hit with a heavy downpour which flooded the ground under our house.
Our yard turned into a mud pit.
And despite spending a fortune on different heaters, nothing seemed to keep any warmth inside during the harsh winter weather.
It was so cold and damp that for the next three months, we all slept in the lounge room, huddled together to keep warm.
Then that August, Cameron and I both came down with the flu and Atamarie was hospitalised with bronchitis once again.
‘I can’t take this anymore,’ I cried.
I realised it must be our home making us sick.
Going to investigate, I ducked my head under the house.
I was shocked to see a lake of water littered with underfloor insulation.
Where it had come away, condensation had seeped into the house causing mould to spread across the floors, walls and windows.
It had even started growing on the bottom of our mattress.
No wonder we’ve been getting sick, I realised, furious. It’s like we’re living in a swamp!
I shared a video of what I’d found on Facebook and the post received hundreds of comments.
Within days, we were contacted by Daniel Newman from Auckland Council who then launched an investigation.
An inspection revealed that outlets for stormwater pipes had been diverted under the house, causing water to collect and pond underneath it.
Aven was issued an insanitary notice, meaning he had 20 days to repair the drainage issues and windows and clean the mould.
Before we had a chance to move out, Atamarie fell ill again with an awful cough. And one morning, I woke to find her tiny body limp in her cot.
Calling an ambulance, I begged for help.
This time, Atamarie was admitted to intensive care with severe bronchitis.
Watching my baby girl so ill, I felt completely broken. Doctors placed tubes up her nose to suction out mucus before she was finally discharged five days later.
Despite the repairs, we no longer felt safe in our home and we couldn’t put Atamarie at risk, so we moved out.
In November last year, the Tenancy Tribunal at Manukau found that while Aven’s maintenance breaches hadn’t been intentional, he had been ‘negligent and slack’.
They said the cold and damp conditions probably contributed to Atamarie’s hospitalisation with bronchitis, as well as other illnesses we had all suffered.
Incredibly, Aven was ordered to pay us more than $6000 compensation, including reimbursement for repair costs we’d made to the house.
Now, 17 months after leaving our house of horrors, we couldn’t be happier in our new home. Our girls love playing in the yard with our dog, and Cameron has even grown his own vegie garden.
I’m sharing my story to warn others about the dangers that could be lurking in their homes and in the hope that landlord’s will take the responsibility to make sure tenants are safe.
You can’t put a price on health.