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Seven year wait for home drags on

A disabled woman and her family are living in a cold, wet rental property seven years into their wait for their promised forever home.

Kirsty Searle suffered a traumatic brain injury 20 years ago and is in a wheelchair.

Last November, Searle, her partner and fulltime carer Robert Lendrum, and their three children left the modified Trust House rental in Solway they’d lived in since 2016 because several construction defects made it unsuitable for Searle’s health needs.

Since then, they’ve been in a Carterton rental.

Kāinga Ora Housing New Zealand has agreed to make custom changes to one of its new state houses under construction on George St in Masterton, but that block of houses is not due for completion until late 2024 or early 2025, with no exact completion date specifically given for the family’s home.

In the meantime, the Carterton rental is not fit for Searle’s health needs.

A healthy homes report completed on July 21 found the house is not compliant with insulation, drainage, ventilation, or draft standards.

It is cold, the ceiling leaks, none of the bedrooms have heating, the linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom is not attached to the floorboards and creating a draft, and the rangehood vents directly into the wall rather than venting outside.

Searle cannot enter or exit the house without passing through thick mud.

Her wheelchair cannot fit through the doorway of what would be her bedroom, but even if it could, all the bedrooms are so cold that the whole family sleeps in the lounge together with the heat pump on, which Lendrum said needs to be kept on for 10 hours or more each night.

“We use the fire, but the fire goes out. If the fire goes out, Kirsty starts shaking; she’s up, she gets cramps, she’s not sleeping very well,” Lendrum said.

“We’ve got to run the heat pump all night so she can sleep.”

Lendrum said the house’s cold, wet, and drafty conditions have made the whole family sick over the winter. When the family moved in November, ACC fitted the house with modifications to make it accessible for Searle but rather than modify the existing bathroom, a portable prefabricated bathroom was put in the driveway.

This requires Searle to go outside and travel across a leaky, cold deck to shower or go to the toilet.

“It’s horrible. I’m freezing cold in my house as it is, and ACC expect me to go outside to an outside shower and come back up in the freezing cold, not even dressed,” Searle said.

“I’m not doing it. It’s not fair.”

At nighttime, instead of going outside, she uses a portable toilet underneath the commode by her bed.

Mike Dixon-McIver, the family’s ACC advocate for 10 years, said ACC has poorly managed the couple’s case since they moved into the Trust House accommodation in 2016.

“This couple has gone through a total nightmare, right down to this final property in Carterton that they’re in now,” Dixon-McIver said.

“This house has totally put Kirsty at risk; they should never have been moved into it.

“I’m not saying ACC has done it deliberately, but it’s just been so incompetent and has failed to meet its legal responsibilities.”

ACC deputy chief executive for service delivery Amanda Malu said she is sorry to hear about the family’s challenges with their current housing.

“We’ve committed to working with Kirsty and Kāinga Ora to make sure a property that’s currently under development meets her injury-related needs,” Malu said.

However, she said ACC is only responsible for the accessibility fittings in the house, and any issue relating to healthy homes standards is a matter to be addressed by the property’s landlord.

Kieran McAnulty said he is limited in what he can say because the matter is before the tenancy tribunal, but he said he has been working to assist the family for several years, including “helping secure a purpose-built home, which is under construction, and assisting with temporary accommodation in the interim”.

Kāinga Ora Wairarapa regional director Vicki McLaren said the agency hopes to deliver a modified state house for the family as soon as possible but did not give a timeframe for when it would be built.

The Times-Age approached Searle’s landlord for comment, asking if she intends to bring the house up to standard, but she did not reply.

The matter will appear before the tenancy tribunal this Thursday.


  1. If ACC is only responsible for the accessibility fittings in the house, then why is Kieran McAnulty working to secure a purpose-built home for the family? Is this not a matter that should be addressed by the property’s landlord?

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Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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