Renters win payout after ‘black water’ contaminates bayside home

Tenants in a bayside Melbourne suburb have won compensation by a landlord who failed to keep their home in good repair.
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A couple who lived in a house in Elwood with their children was awarded just over $6000 after they took their fight to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Rebecca and Graham Matthews claimed their home and belongings were contaminated by “black water” after a major storm on December 28 last year.

Flooding damaged the walls, ceilings and carpets as well as the tenants’ clothing and posed a threat to health.

They had warned the landlord of a damp spot in the hallway ceiling in 2014, but nothing was done.

VCAT deputy president Ian Lulham found that warning put the landlord on notice about the house’s potential for storm damage, and that the landlord breached her duty under the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure premises were maintained in good repair.

The tenants were ignored again when they asked for repairs to the house after the storm, with the real estate agent, Axis Properties, threatening to take them to VCAT if they left without giving full notice to terminate tenancy.

A week after the storm, water was still coming from light fittings in the living room and bedroom.

The tenants moved out after suffering headaches, skin rashes and nausea, but continued to pay rent as a sign of good faith.

The tribunal heard that water in the carpet caused such a foul smell that the tenants could not live in the dry part of the house.

Because the agent took no action and did not concede the water damage was doing the tenants harm, the tenants obtained a report from an environment, health and safety assessor, who found the house was uninhabitable because of mould, lead paint and black water contamination.

An insurance assessor also found black water contamination, advising the tenants to get out and throw away all contaminated items.

The City of Port Phillip issued a building order, saying the “stormwater discharge system to the existing dwelling is dilapidated, allowing water ingress to the inner parts of the dwelling, posing a danger to the occupants”.

Mr Lulham found the landlord had breached an obligation to identify and rectify defects, ordering rent from December 29 to January 27 be paid to the tenants.

Also covered in the $6,023.52 payout: the cost of reports, insurance excess, unplanned moving, and an out of home fee of $100 per day.

Mr Lulham described the landlord’s position as unwarranted and irresponsible.