Danger note 'terrifying' for ill father

A Wanaka property owner was "terrified" for her dying father's health when Queenstown Lakes District Council building officers arrived on her doorstep to issue a Dangerous Building Notice, the Queenstown District Court heard yesterday.

Fiona Caroline Graham, of Wanaka, gave evidence in defence of the council's five Building Act charges against her and the council's nine Building Act charges against her company, Wanaka Gym Ltd, which owns 155 Tenby St, in Wanaka.

The self-described Oxford-trained anthropologist said she temporarily removed the notice to show her father so he would not see it unexpectedly.

She said it was terribly upsetting for the council to issue a notice while her parents were there, in an exact repeat of events in 2003, which had since been overturned.

"My parents were in Wanaka for the first time in five years because of their prior experiences with the council . . . The last time this had happened he had to leave New Zealand because of severe heart pain."

Graham said she also removed the notice to discuss with her tenants "the importance and urgency of the situation" in the lounge then replaced it after an hour.

Council solicitor Richard Cunliffe reminded Judge David Holderness that Lakes Environmental building officer Alexander Russell gave evidence the notice was absent when he checked two days later.

Graham said she assumed somebody else took it down.

Mr Cunliffe suggested 19 tenants were sleeping in the building between the notice issue on June 25, 2008, and the inspection by Mr Russell on August 11, 2008.

However, Graham said it was Lakes Environmental building manager Peter Laurenson's "opinion" there were people sleeping there, when he emailed her about the alleged contravention of the notice.

Graham did not accept there were 19 people sleeping in the building on August 11, 2008, and asked how she could know how many as she was overseas.

Half of the tenants moved out after the council's "threatening" inspection on June 10, 2008, and she had no recollection of any rent being received afterwards.

Mr Cunliffe said Graham, as director of Wanaka Gym, took no steps to check if the property was being used, or how she might remove any occupants.

Graham said Mr Russell did not draw her attention to the ceiling material, which was identified in the notice as a fire risk, during his inspections before 2005.

Graham said 155 Tenby St was not used as visitor accommodation because guests "lived as one large family".

They signed tenancy agreements for at least three months and facilities, expenses, cooking and sleeping areas were shared.

She described the unconsented mezzanine floors as "bunks".

Graham said she was unable to obtain a compliance certificate from Wanaka electrician Craig Weastall, "because with my tenants evicted I no longer had an income".

Graham said she and her architect tried to identify which walls and doors the council's Notice to Fix referred to.

They repeatedly asked Mr Laurenson for advice, but he refused to specify and referred her back to the Notice to Fix, she said.

Graham invited the council to inspect the property after work was completed.

Mr Weastall told her there were no urgent electrical issues that could not wait 10 days.

Mr Cunliffe began the fifth day of the hearing by describing defence counsel David More as "misconceived" suggesting the notice was invalid because it was issued under chief executive Duncan Field's authority and not the council's.

Mr Cunliffe told Judge Holderness there was evidence of appropriate council authority.

Mr Field's signature had given the notice authenticity, even though the Local Government Act did not require it.

Judge Holderness adjourned the hearing for a date to be set.


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