A NSW tribunal has ordered a family to pay their former landlords $3000 after finding they “abandoned” the rented premises.
Bechara Rizk and Ariye Atayi Juma claimed the Sydney property was “uninhabitable” and riddled with cockroaches and other bugs.
The couple inspected the home on April 22, 2023, signed a lease and then received the keys on April 28.
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But Rizk and Juma said when they went into the home on April 29, they saw “tiny insects and small cockroaches” in the linen cupboard, living area, master bedroom, second bedroom and main bathroom.
The insects were on the walls, doors, skirting boards, carpets and in the toilets, they said.
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Rizk emailed the real estate agency saying he did not consider the property habitable — especially for his young daughter.
“(We) went to the property an hour ago for the first time since we received the keys yesterday and there were tiny insects and cockroaches alive and dead in every room,” the email said.
“I have taken some videos if you need to see evidence but, most importantly, we are not comfortable bringing a small baby who is crawling to live in this apartment.
“I am writing to formally pull out of the lease and wanting to understand what the repercussions are for us.”
The agency offered to arrange a pest control service, which Rizk and Juma rejected because they did not believe this would fix the issue.
After returning the keys on May 1, Rizk sent an email the next day requesting their bond and deposit be returned.
A pest controller treated the home on May 3, recording that a “small amount of (insect) activity” had been located and treated.
In a letter to Rizk and Juma the next day, the real estate agency said the pest controller had found “no evidence of a pest infestation in the property” and the couple’s claim the property was uninhabitable was without merit.
Rizk replied: “We have pulled out of our lease not due to a change of mind, it is uninhabitable and simply not what we signed up for.
“We cannot live in an insect-infested apartment with a young baby.
“As any parent should understand, our child is our first priority and at the very least it would be irresponsible and the most could potentially put her in harm.”
New tenants moved in on June 1.
Matter before the tribunal
The dispute ended up in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, with Rizk and Juma seeking repayment of their bond while the landlords asked for compensation for the couple’s “abandonment” of the lease.
Tribunal member Ross Glover found “the mere presence of pests at the commencement of a tenancy does not establish that there has been a failure by a landlord” to ensure the home was “reasonably clean” or “fit for habitation”.
In particular, Glover was not satisfied the home was “infested” with cockroaches and other insects.
He referenced the pest controller’s report identifying the pest activity as “small”.
Glover found that Rizk and Juma abandoned the premises on May 1, 2023.
Due to a promised rent reduction while works were carried out at the property, the court found the rent payable during the period the home was untenanted should be calculated at $750 per week instead of $1000.
Therefore the court found Rizk and Juma owed the landlords $3000 in compensation — four weeks rent at the reduced rate — which was ordered to be deducted from the couple’s bond, with any remaining balance refunded to them.