Lawyer for body corp of Auckland tower facing eviction applies for suspension: ‘the building is safe’

Lawyer for body corp of Auckland tower facing eviction applies for suspension: ‘the building is safe’

City Garden Apartments, Albert Street, Auckland City. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

A lawyer representing the body corporate for a 16-level downtown Auckland building says he has applied to have a council-issued dangerous building notice suspended.

Tim Rainey, who is acting for the City Garden Apartments’ body corporate, told the Herald he applied to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment today for a determination to challenge the council’s decision to issue the notice. He argued the tower with 199 apartments does not meet the definition of a dangerous building.

“There remains a possibility that if there was an additional real risk to the safety of the occupants, that could prompt a further evacuation notice from the council,” Rainey said.

“But the advice I have from our fire experts is that all of the concerns have now been addressed and the building is safe to be occupied.”

Residents in the building at 76 Albert St were threatened with having to leave by Monday.

However, Auckland Council building control manager Ian McCormick told Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan most issues have been resolved.

He said there was a good chance it will pass its inspection tomorrow and about 90 per cent of the problems have been addressed.

RNZ also reported this evening the building’s management said they were short more than $30 million needed for long-term fixes to some fire hazards and recladding.

The building has not had a warrant of fitness since 2017 and the council has issued several notices to fix (NFTs) and infringement fines.

Today, apartment owners told the Herald they were dismayed at the lack of transparency from the building owners, managers and body corporate, as it’s not the first time issues have been identified.

One resident told the Herald he had no idea where he would live if the building was deemed unsafe and hadn’t been advised whether his accommodation would be paid for or not.

“Whether or not the fire alarm goes off, that means nothing to me because we all watched the Grenfell building with the same cladding on, go up in minutes,” a resident told the Herald.

Residents outside the City Garden Apartments on Albert Street were confused after Auckland Council issued a dangerous building notice. Photo / Jamie Lyth

In 2018, the Herald reported an apartment owner was “disgusted” to learn that the building had exterior aluminium composite cladding like the Grenfell Tower in London, where a fire killed more than 70 people.

Six years later, nine notices are taped to the front of the building with extensive warnings of fire safety risks and the dangerous cladding remains

Yesterday, Auckland Council field surveying manager Jeff Fahrensohn told the Herald the dangerous building notice was issued following visits by both council building inspectors and Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) which found significant defects with the fire safety systems within the building.

Fahrensohn said the building would be reinspected again tomorrow when it will decide if the notice could be removed to avoid the need for residents to evacuate.

Tim Rainey acts for City Garden Apartments' residents.
Tim Rainey acts for City Garden Apartments’ residents.

Rainey said it was an “impossible ask” to evacuate the building’s residents by Monday.

“It takes on average one to three hours via a goods lift to move the contents of one apartment in or out. Under no circumstances do we have enough hours in the day to evacuate all 199 apartments in the building by Monday” Rainey said.

“The notice was in my view always unreasonable and the deadlines were unrealistic.

“But the council was prompted to issue that notice because of immediate issues around the maintenance of the fire alarm and the fire sprinkler systems within the building,” he said.

The handle of a fire door had been vandalised and that was discovered during a fire alarm within the building last week, Rainey said.

A connection between the firm alarm system and Fenz had also been disconnected by a contractor who had run a fire alarm test but had not reconnected the system, he told the Herald.

That was also discovered last week as a result of an issue with a sprinkler which was broken. It should have resulted in the fire service being alerted but that didn’t happen.

“These are the sort of mistakes that happen in a large building like this,” Rainey said.

Entrance to the City Garden Apartments on Albert Street. Photo / Jamie Lyth
Entrance to the City Garden Apartments on Albert Street. Photo / Jamie Lyth

Both issues were remediated, he explained, while the door handle was replaced and the connection to the fire service reinstated.

But other issues still needed to be remediated within the building, he said.

“I make no judgement about whether council has reacted appropriately but I do think it was unrealistic to expect the occupants of 199 apartments would be able to jump to and move out as fast as this. There might have been a more proactive and cooperative way of achieving the result, rather than issuing the notice,” he said.

Rainey acknowledged there are “some long-term issues that needs to be addressed” and the body corporate is working through that with the council and that the building had been without a current warrant of fitness.

Anne Gibson has been the Herald’s property editor for 24 years, has won many awards, written books and covered property extensively here and overseas.