by Greta Yeoman
Just under 3% of properties were reported as “always” damp in last year’s census, but South Canterbury social advocates say it is “certainly a reality” for many of the region’s residents.
Anglican Care South Canterbury social justice advocate Ruth Swale said the issue of dampness was “not at all uncommon” in the region, particularly in old rentals.
“Usually the worst cases of that have been in houses that are ready for demolition, so the landlord is unwilling to do any serious maintenance.
“In one bathroom that I inspected, small toadstools were growing out of the skirting boards, and just as quickly as the tenant was cleaning them off they were growing straight back.”
Just under 3% of the 1.6million dwellings nationwide were reported in last year’s census as “always”damp, accounting for more than 44,500 homes.
Census 2018 was the first time people were asked about their housing type and conditions, including dampness, mould and facilities.
More than 270,000 homes across the country were “sometimes” damp, according to the census.
Salvation Army Timaru Corps officer Emma Howan said cold and damp homes were “certainly a reality” for households in South Canterbury.
“Many of those who come to us for assistance do so due to the cost of heating homes or because their power has been or is soon to be shut off.”
More than 60,800 of 1.5million dwellings reported on in the census did not use any form of heating.
Heat pumps were the most popular form of heating (more than 723,000), followed by electric heaters (more than 675,000) and woodburners (more than 494,800).
Of the 1.5million respondents to a question on facilities, almost 6000 people in private dwellings said they did not have electricity, cooking facilities, toilet/bathroom amenities or clean tap water.
However, Ms Swale said the only residents she had encountered living without these amenities in South Canterbury were subletting garages or sleep-outs from main tenants who denied them access to the main dwelling.
“Obviously those sub-tenants had to be very desperate to tolerate that, and would not be prepared to do it for very long, and the situation would almost certainly be occurring without the knowledge or consent of the landlord.”
Ms Howan said while the Salvation Army did not keep data on the state of properties occupied by those it supported, it had been hearing from people about their “resourcefulness” in coping with living in alternative living spaces.
“We are hearing from people of their resourcefulness living in spaces not designed for that purpose such as garages and basements,” Ms Howan said.
More than 64,500 properties across New Zealand had a patch of mould larger than an A4 piece of paper that was “always” there, while 188,319 “sometimes” had mould larger than that.
Ms Swale said mould of “varying sizes and shapes” was a “recurring problem” in some places in the region that she had been asked to look at.
There were even cases of “highly toxic black mould”.
“It is usually at its worst where the rental property has ceased to be of long-term monetary value to the landlord and is slated for demolition.
“Such landlords will keep it going for as long as someone is desperate enough to keep paying rent for it, unfortunately.”