Council evicted tenants over petty issues, court told

The Queenstown Lakes District Council "evicted" tenants over "petty issues" and held an injunction on a house for more than a year, the Queenstown District Court heard yesterday.

"How could such a thing happen in New Zealand?" defendant Fiona Caroline Graham, of Wanaka, asked during her resumed cross-examination by council solicitor Richard Cunliffe yesterday.

Graham is defending five Building Act charges against her, brought by the Queenstown Lakes District Council, and the council's nine Building Act charges against her company, Wanaka Gym Ltd, which owns 155 Tenby St, in Wanaka.

The former commercial gym was used residentially by several tenants until a council injunction on August 11, 2008.

The case resumed yesterday in the Queenstown District Court because the earlier hearing, between November 2 and 6, ran out of time.

Mr Cunliffe submitted Lakes Environmental building manager Peter Laurenson told Graham what was wrong with the property's fire safety measures in an email dated July 22, 2008.

Graham said she and her architect were in constant communication with the council to identify which doors and walls were in unsatisfactory condition so they could fix them.

Graham accepted she "temporarily" removed the laminated dangerous building notice from the exterior to make sure her dying father was sitting when she showed it to him.

Mr Cunliffe said she was also given an A4 copy of the notice.

He said the council had to get an injunction because Graham continued to allow the use of the building, despite the dangerous building notice and the notice to fix.

Graham said: "The council was fully aware as early as June 10 that I had handymen and everything on schedule to fix my building in a couple of weeks. Their response . . . was to start procedures to evict my tenants. The council did not want me to finish my building."

Graham's mother, Margaret Graham, of Melbourne, said she and her late husband were present at the "single-household unit" when council officers attached the dangerous building notice on June 25, 2008.

Mrs Graham said the couple were upset and felt they were being "evicted" by the council, as they believed they had been in 2003, "but my husband's health made us decide we couldn't face a move, so we sneaked back in without anybody noticing. [Graham] didn't know".

Stevenson Brown Ltd director Nicholas Brown, an engineer from Dunedin, was called as a defence witness.

The court heard fire safety requirements of the building consent required a 400mm gap between the top of the partitions and the ceiling in the "group accommodation area".

Mr Brown said even though some of the studs in the partitions intersected the gap, as did a ceiling beam, there was still sufficient compliance.

If a building was a single-household unit, the 400mm gap was not a requirement, he said.

There was uncertainty whether 155 Tenby St was a single-household unit or visitor accommodation.

Judge Holderness asked counsel to prepare written submissions before Christmas, "with focus on the essential elements which require proof on each charge".

"This has been a nine-year persecution without evidence," Graham told the Otago Daily Times after the hearing closed.



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