Queenstown ‘slumlord’ threatens to evict overcharged tenants

by Lauren Pattemore and Peter Newport - Jun 21, 2023

Following our coverage of Queenstown landlord James Truong’s overcrowded and overpriced rental property he has threatened that “some people might need to find another place to stay”.

Meanwhile one tenant has told Crux Mr Truong has been at the house for much of the morning, asking those living there to write testimonials, vouching that their living conditions are "good".

Landlord James Truong says any unhappy tenant is free to leave.

The eviction threat comes after Mr Truong met with Crux reporters and tenants last night (Tuesday, June 20). It was sent after the meeting. When asked about the messages Mr Truong told Crux this morning it was an "owner-tenant matter". 

There have been previous complaints elsewhere in New Zealand about Mr Truong, with one Christchurch tenant labelling him a “slumlord”.

Queenstown residents have already started to offer alternate accommodation for some of the tenants as questions about the safety of the rental property’s electricity supply grow. Crux has asked Mr Truong to supply a copy of electrical safety certificate for the property, which he says it has. 

Crux also could not see evidence of smoke alarms during last night’s meeting. 

Crux is waiting for detailed responses from both the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Queenstown Lakes District Council regarding urgent questions over whether the property breaks various rules and regulations connected with occupancy numbers, resource consent conditions and fire safety.

Our previous coverage details a QLDC Notice to Fix issued in 2020, with both the QLDC and Mr Truong yet to detail what happened after the deadline to comply with it passed in May 2020, apparently without the required actions being taken or the “fixes” later being reversed. 

At last night’s meeting Mr Truong defended his role as a landlord and his rents of $490 a week for a double room and $250 for a single.

He told tenants he cannot drop their rent, and disagrees that he is exploiting them.

He says he is “trying to help the people here” by giving them accommodation, and anyone who doesn't like the set-up or thinks it is overpriced doesn't have to stay. 

“They can give me notice and vacate and find another property...Everyone has the right to vacate.” 

Makeshift repairs at the property, which landlord James Truong is asking tenants to vouch for as providing good living conditions in light of Crux reporting on overcrowding and safety concerns.

He says “market forces” dictate the rents.

“From a landlord's perspective, or an owners perspective, we've got an interest rates increase from 2.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

“How is that exploitation when these mortgages increase three fold? My costs have gone up three fold.

“If I do not increase rent, how do I cover my costs?”

He says it is "simple supply and demand, simple mathematics, simple finance" - if anyone is profiteering off this, it is the banks, in his view. 

Mr Truong is also pushing back at claimed substandard conditions at the rental, saying everything in the house complies with Healthy Homes Standards.

He is also defending claims the property's power supply is unsafe.

Tenants says the power frequently cuts off, often when too many appliances are being used at once.

Mr Truong says he is working on a solution.

“I've already contacted the electrician, we're trying to formulate a plan to sort this out.”

He has also given Crux several specific explanations for the on-and-off-again power - one, a faulty fan heater that he thinks could "trip the circuit breakers", he says he just needs to narrow down which one it is and then he will replace it.

He also says there is a tenant who he claims is blasting his heater with a window open, and other tenants with heaters on but wearing shorts and t-shirts.

He believes his tenants could curb their power use in general.

There was evidence of a camera in the shared space to keep an eye on tenants, but it was a scramble to show Crux any smoke alarm - it wasn't able to be located.

“We've got too many heaters turned on, that's the issue.” 

During the meeting, one tenant spoke up, saying “they look after this house very carefully” and work together to make sure everyone has electricity - when someone is cooking in the kitchen, others will turn off the heaters and lights in their rooms.  

In 2020, when asked by the council about the nature of how his property was being used - it is consented as a residential dwelling, not a boarding house or similar - Mr Truong replied in an email the property was home to extended family members, as allowed for.

When asked by Crux yesterday evening if this was still the case, he said he considered his tenants to be "family".

“It's not a nuclear family – mom and dad and the kids – but they’re still considered as a family.”

He says he welcomes his tenants coming to him with any problems.

“If there's any issues there, they come and talk to me about it. I'm not trying to scam people.”

If you have any short, medium or long-term accommodation to offer the Truong tenants please contact [email protected] without delay.

Main image: A $490-a-week double room, no ensuite, at James Truong's Queenstown property. One occupant says she hangs clothes by the windows to help keep out the cold.

Read more:

'Slumlord' earns $30,000 a month cramming 30 people into Queenstown rental, denies breaking law

Queenstown tenants living in $7,500-a-week ghetto house tell their story

Queenstown rental nightmare: house crammed with 30 tenants

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