Students in James Truong Christchurch slum - no hot water and a collapsed, mushroom-infested ceiling

by Lauren Pattemore - Jul 27, 2023

University of Canterbury students have issued a complaint today against Queenstown-based landlord James Truong saying mushrooms are growing from the ceiling of their rented Christhcurch property and they've had no hot water for six months. 

The students contacted the Tenancy Tribunal and are giving Mr Truong 14 days to fix multiple problems they've been asking him to solve since March.

The tenant who spoke to Crux today says that his flatmate has a hole in his bedroom ceiling, hosting mould and mushrooms, that they’ve asked to have fixed “at least ten times”.

Also on their list of items to fix, a broken heat pump and faulty hot water cylinder.

Landlord James Truong and one of the cramped, cold and crowded rooms in his Johnson Place property, Queenstown - currently the focus of two investigations.

Due to the cold conditions at the flat, they choose to “stay at uni longer” rather than coming home.

“And we leave the doors open because it's warmer outside [than inside] most days, so somehow it warms up the house.”

The tenant says they have not had hot water at the flat for the six months they’ve lived at the property, and although a plumber came around approximately six weeks ago the problem was not fixed.

“He didn’t really fix anything, he said there's not much you could do because of how cheap the water system in the house is.”

In total, seven tenants are living in the Upper Riccarton house, all in their second year at the university and first-time renters - the tenant believes Mr Truong picks university students as tenants on purpose because they're less likely to complain.

Some of the seven tenants have had their mobile numbers blocked by the property manager because of their repeated calls to fix broken services, heaters, walls and furniture. 

They don’t deal with Mr Truong directly, but instead a designated property manager, who they say is an employee of the University of Canterbury.

When the group were looking for a rental, they were approached by the employee about living at this flat.

The tenant says Mr Truong is a “local legend” at the University of Canterbury, and well-known amongst students for his dodgy rental properties.

The tenant was also told by the property manager Mr Truong owns 17 student flats in Christchurch, but this number has not been confirmed.

Crux has approached Mr Truong to confirm this number but has not received a reply.

A former tenant of Mr Truong, who lived at a different rental address, says he is only aware of Mr Truong owning three rental properties in Christchurch. Crux is aware of at least four rental properties, but council records for properties known to be connected to Truong have his name and contact details withheld. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was contacted but unable to detail how many properties Mr Truong has in Christchurch before our deadline. 

The property has also come under fire from the Christchurch City Council, which investigated it in mid-2019 for work completed without resource consent.

Mr Truong constructed a garage on the property without consent in 2012, and later converted into a two-bedroom sleepout, with a kitchen, laundry and bathroom, also without consent.

In documents obtained by Crux from the council, Mr Truong is seen to have completed similar unconsented work in a nearby rental property he also owned.

Documents show that the sleepout was found without legally required fire alarms when the council visited the property in May 2019.

Internal emails from the Christchurch City Council building consent team detail the property as “damp and mouldy”.

The sleepout was accepted under the Building Act after the kitchen sink and water supply were removed.

The council also received two complaints from tenants about the state of the sleepout. The tenants wanted to break their rental agreements as the kitchen facilities were inadequate or missing.

The Green Party's Chloe Swarbrick

Yesterday, the Green Party's renters' rights spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick placed a new bill in the member's ballot seeking to address some of the issues Mr Truong's tenants are facing, that would require properties to undergo a Rental Warrant of Fitness.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, Ms Swarbrick says the Healthy Homes standards are a great start, but there are still inadequate checks and the government has no real world data on the number of rentals that comply.

Ms Swarbrick says this Rental Warrant of Fitness would work in tandem with a register for property managers and landlords and the Green's proposed three percent capped rent controls to solve the number of Kiwis living in cold, mouldy housing.  

“Our WOF Bill fixes these issues once and for all, by ensuring homes are certified warm and dry instead of continuing to place the burden on tenants to fight for basic human rights through the Tenancy Tribunal," Ms Swarbrick says.

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