QLDC, MBIE investigate overcrowded, unsafe Queenstown rental
Enforcement authorities are taking action in response to claims a residential property in central Queenstown is housing up to 30 tenants in unsafe, substandard conditions.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment have both confirmed investigations into reported issues at the address, owned by landlord James Truong, are underway.
Crux reporting in recent days has revealed the conversion of a garage into a residential dwelling for five tenants, as well as subdivided rooms crammed with beds throughout the main house. Tenants are complaining of repeated power outages and instruction from their landlord to limit power consumption in an attempt to prevent temporary blackouts, and an absence of smoke alarms.
A Queenstown retailer contacted Crux this afternoon to say Mr Truong had just purchased four smoke alarms and four heaters, while in the meantime Crux has had confirmation Energy Safety, a division of WorkSafe, is looking at the safety of the electrical systems at Mr Truong’s property.
A spokesperson for the QLDC says, "on the basis of fresh information provided by these articles, we will begin a new investigation and liaise with MBIE as required".
On Tuesday, Crux encountered members of MBIE's Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team at the address, who said they were unable to comment on their work.
However, MBIE's national compliance and investigations manager Brett Wilson has confirmed the team was in town this week for a series of other pre-planned visits.
"While in Queenstown the team became aware of information relating to the property in question and undertook a visit.
"As this investigation is ongoing MBIE will not be able to comment on any preliminary findings until the investigations are completed."
Any comment at this stage could prejudice the investigation and impact on any enforcement outcome, but MBIE can confirm that it has had "previous interactions with this landlord", he says.
It is also not the first time Mr Truong's rental has come to the attention of the QLDC.
A spokesperson for the council confirms this particular property and its owner have been investigated in the past - in 2020 a notice to fix was issued in response to the discovery of makeshift rooms and plumbing in a garage.
"Matters were resolved in 2020 to our satisfaction," the council spokesperson says.
"Council staff undertook another site visit in September last year, after a separate complaint, but did not identify any non-compliance."
A notice to fix is a statutory notice requiring a person to remedy a breach of the Building Act.
Council documents reveal body-cam footage taken by a MBIE inspector helped confirm the 2020 breaches.
The documents also show correspondence between the council's senior building control officer and Mr Truong in early 2020 after the notice to fix was issued.
Staff member Jill Ryan asks Mr Truong for confirmation the house is no longer being used for anything other than single residential occupancy, and that the converted garage is back to its consented use - storage, not human occupancy.
Mr Truong writes in a series of replies, "Yes, the house is single dwelling use with my extended family members...the garage is a non habitable space and to be used as storage only".
Speaking to Crux this week, the council says it is obliged to investigate any alleged breaches of the Building Act 2004 when it receives a complaint.
"If anyone is in a similar situation, we’d encourage them to contact our customer services team with their concerns."
Red flags may include evidence of a property being altered from its original design in any way, such as outhouses or garages that generally wouldn't be, made habitable, or additional walls or dividers used to create additional rooms.
MBIE also stresses it wants to hear from any Queenstown Lakes tenants who have concerns about their rental situations.
If anyone suspects a serious or ongoing breach of the Residential Tenancies Act, information on making a complaint is available on the Tenancy Services website.
Mr Wilson says the team aims "to work with landlords to encourage and strengthen sustained compliance" with the Residential Tenancies Act and the Healthy Homes Standards, "to ensure that tenants live in warm, dry, and safe homes".
As its investigation progresses the team "will provide guidance and instruction" to enable the landlord to work toward compliance with the law, he says.
"Where ongoing breaches are identified, the team uses several interventions and enforcement tools to ensure landlords comply with their obligations...This includes holding landlords to account and requiring them to change their behaviour where necessary."
Mr Truong was also reported to be the landlord involved in a tenancy dispute in 2019 in Christchurch, where tenants claimed he rented sleepouts on a property, the occupants of which were forced to shared cooking facilities inside the main dwelling, with no compensation to those living there. The ruling in this case claimed as a landlord Mr Truong showed "an ignorance of the requirements for residential tenancies".