Tribunal rejects $53,000 claim for soiled designer clothing and missed French lessons

Unhappy tenants have tried to claim more than $50,000 worth of compensation from their landlord, saying a toilet leak destroyed designer clothes, branded devices and caused an illness that left one of them in a toxic shock “coma”.

Tenants Ximing Yang and Xiao Pan took their case to the Tenancy Tribunal saying their landlord failed to meet the healthy home’s standard after the seal on their toilet burst and flooded their central Auckland unit with human waste and greywater.

They say the leak exposed them to “deadly diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid” and they were left out of pocket after having to throw out $21,370 worth of contaminated items – including clothing, underwear, shoes, a rug, silk pillowcases and beds.

Some of the items “contaminated” by the flood of human waste were from designer brands such as Gucci, Chanel and Burberry, as well as an iPhone max-pro, Airpods and a MacBook pro.

The rest of the $53,588 claim related to compensation for a long list of things including “psychology consultations”, medical treatment, legal consultation, preparation costs for the hearing, translation services, catch-up French lessons and eating out because of the smell.

However, Tribunal adjudicator Jane Northwood threw out the majority of the couples’ claims, stating the extensive list wasn’t supported by sufficient evidence and that the landlord made a concerted and prompt effort to fix the problem.

The toilet started leaking on June 25, 2021, causing sewage and wastewater to travel through the bathroom, into the corridor and two upstairs bedrooms.The tenants said sewage was up to 20mm high and destroyed personal property that was on the floors of the bedrooms.

They said they contacted the landlord on the same day, but because they were unable to reach them they cleaned up the initial mess and disposed of the damaged property.

Another email was sent to the landlord two days later saying the toilet was leaking, they had stopped using it and the floor was damp.

After receiving the email the following morning, the landlord organised an urgent repair and the toilet was scheduled to be fixed the next day.

A report filed by the plumber the following month said he found a blockage that had caused “a considerable amount of mess in the bathroom area, consisting of human waste and toilet paper”.

He said it was clear the toilet was blocked but it was still being used, which caused most of the mess, and if he had known the extent of the contamination he would have attended sooner.

A faulty seal was found at the base of the toilet by the plumber, and the landlord said this was not an ongoing issue and had the toilet not been blocked by the tenants there would not have been a leak.

“Because of the blockage and the faulty seal, rather than the water rising in the bowl as it normally would, it spewed out of the toilet connection at the base,” the tribunal decision released this month read.

“Apparently, the owner and previous tenants had lived in the property for over 10 years and neither had experienced any issues despite the faulty seal,” Northwood said.

Industrial cleaners were sent in to decontaminate the property on June 29, and after complaints that the smell still lingered, further decontamination work was done at the beginning of July.

Dehumidifiers and drying equipment set up by the cleaners to dry the carpets were turned off by the tenants. The underlay was eventually replaced.

The tenants told the Tribunal that during their tenancy they had blocked the toilet “about 10 times” and had used a plunger to unblock it before the big leak.

The claims for compensation for the contaminated items were declined by Northwood, but the tenants were credited $1250 as a rent rebate.

“At no time did the tenants prove ownership of these items, nor destruction of, nor disposal of these alleged items,” Northwood said.

“It should be noted that the landlord made an offer of some financial assistance to move out temporarily while the clean-up was taking place. The tenants chose not to avail themselves of the offer.”

One of the tenants claimed he was in an alleged “coma” due to toxic shock from the toilet leak, despite receiving no medical evidence, intervention or support.

The tenants also claimed to have suffered from high blood pressure, chest pains, sleep disturbances and stress due to the leak.

However, Northwood declined compensation for those claims as well.

“The tenants have failed to produce any evidence of damage to their general health, (short and long term) and that the premises were non-compliant with the RTA and toxic.”

Yang and Pan were instead ordered to pay $6173 to their landlord for rent arrears, cleaning and water rates.

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