Residents ordered to evacuate Auckland apartment building

City Gardens Apartments on Albert Street in Auckland CBD. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia
City Gardens Apartments on Albert Street in Auckland CBD. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia
By Lucy Xia

Significant fire safety defects and a highly combustible cladding mean residents of City Gardens Apartments on Albert St need to evacuate on short notice.

Auckland Council has issued a Dangerous Building Notice for the building at 76 Albert St.

Auckland Council field surveying manager Jeff Fahrensohn said residents had been advised on 12 April to vacate by midday on 22 April.

"This follows 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," he said.

Interim safety measures had been put in place, but residents would need to leave "if the safety issues have not been adequately resolved by then".

A progress meeting on Thursday gave council "some confidence that works to make the building safer are progressing well", Fahrensohn said.

Contractors were working on-site but there were still a number of remedial works yet to be completed, he said.

"We will re-inspect again on Friday and are hopeful the remedial works will be completed to a stage where the DBN can be removed, avoiding the need for residents to evacuate."

Fahrensohn said the notice would be "distressing for residents, however our priority is to keep building occupants safe".

He urged building owners and body corporates to regularly inspect and maintain their building safety systems.

Workers at the building said they started repairs three days ago.

Council's notice orders the remedial work to be completed by 12 May.

The order to vacate is also posted on the window at the entrance of the building.

Next to it is a letter to the apartment's body corporate from Fire and Emergency dated 21 August 2023. It outlines a series of major safety concerns it has about the building.

In the letter, FENZ said the building had not had a warrant of fitness since 2017, that it was unclear whether the building's fire alarms could reliably alert occupants to a fire, or that residents could reliably find the escape routes due to the condition of the signage.

It also said the escape routes did not offer protection to anyone using them from a possible fire, and that it was unclear whether they could deliver water to the upper levels of the building in the event of a fire.

An Auckland Council report found a fire exit door did not open, sprinklers did not trigger alarms for residents nor FENZ, and a malfunctioning alarm switch among other issues.

One resident said the occupants were told they would need to vacate this weekend if the building did not pass fire testing on Friday.

But another said they had been told they would be given an extra week to vacate if it failed the test.

A third person, who has been living at the Albert Street tower for more than a year, said he was unaware of any order to vacate.

However, he said living conditions at the apartment were poor, including a cockroach infestation, and the fire alarm frequently went off - up to six times a day.

He had found a new place to live from next month.

Due to extensive roadworks on Albert St, firefighters might struggle to access the building in the event of a fire.

Back in 2018, the building was found to have the same type of highly combustible cladding with a polyethylene (non-fire resistant) core, as London's Grenfell Tower, where more than 70 people died in a rapid fire.