Queenstown tenants illegally evicted from slumlord's garage

by Kim Bowden and Lauren Pattemore - Jun 22, 2023

Five tenants living in a central Queenstown garage have been illegally evicted by repeat-offending landlord James Truong.

Mr Truong told his garage tenants late yesterday to pack their belongings, and clean and get out of the garage they have been calling home for more than three months - paying more than $1,100 a week to live there. 

Legally their landlord should have given them up to 90 days notice.

The men, who have travelled to New Zealand specifically to gain experience working in the hotel industry, were all gone by 9am this morning - just 14 hours after Mr Truong confronted them.

Mr Truong was at the property today, but refused to comment when asked by Crux if he had evicted the tenants.

He instead asked Crux to leave the property.

Three to a room, in a car garage conversion - the home for five overseas workers, until they were illegally evicted last night, expected to be gone within hours.

The garage dwellers are not the only casualties of Mr Truong's scrambling - the initial whistle-blower tenant, who alerted Crux to the overcrowded, substandard and potentially unsafe rental, has also been given notice.

Crux understands the tenancy agreement between the garage tenants and Mr Truong started on March 22 and was for a fixed term, ending today. So, the agreement was a 92-day fixed-term tenancy.

Under New Zealand tenancy law, a fixed-term tenancy over 90 nights rolls over to a periodic tenancy if no notice to vacate has been given.

Prior to Wednesday night at 7pm, the tenants had not been given any notice from landlord Mr Truong to vacate the premises.

Local Citizens Advice Bureau manager Tracy Poole says the tenants had every right to stay at the property.

“He can’t give that short amount of notice.

“Even if they're on a fixed-term lease, it automatically goes to periodic.”

She says Mr Truong should have given up to 90 days notice that he required the five men to leave, depending on the circumstances. 

However, the men have told Crux they were not aware of their rights.

They are newcomers to the country, they are juggling shift work, and they have been living five to a garage, each paying around $225 per week between them to do so.

They asked for their names or any identifying photos to remain unpublished.

They come from Bali, and have travelled to work in a number of countries to gain vital experience to help them move up the hospitality career ladder back home. New Zealand isn't their first overseas destination.

But it may well be their coldest. While some of the crew of five were on an early-morning work shift, Crux spoke to two more as they returned to the property for the last of their belongings - a pair of bikes.

A friend with a car had helped them shift their belongings first thing.

For the next seven nights, at least, the hotel they work at is providing a roof over their heads, allowing them accommodation onsite after an emergency call to their manager explaining the situation as it unfolded last night.

Crux has approached the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the mayor, asking if there is anything they can do to support the evictees.

A spokesperson for QLDC says the council has reached out to Tenancy Services, who are echoing the advice of the Citizens Advice Bureau. 

"If the landlord is illegally terminating a tenancy the tenants don’t have to leave the property. They should make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal about illegal notice."

Yesterday, the council confirmed it had inspected this particular property of Mr Truong's before.

In 2020 the council issued a notice to fix as a result of illegal habitation of the garage and other non-consented modifications to the home.

"Matters were resolved in 2020 to our satisfaction..However, on the basis of fresh information provided by these articles, we will begin a new investigation and liaise with MBIE as required."

Need help? The process to follow is here or Tenancy Services can be contacted on 0800 836 262 for further advice. 

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

QLDC, MBIE investigate overcrowded, unsafe Queenstown rental


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