Surprise council inspection leaves residents ‘anxious’

A recent fire safety inspection at a residential living complex left occupants anxious and frightened, a Winton man claims.

But the council behind the check-up says safety is the priority, and maintains interactions were "positive".

On May 23, a Southland District Council letter was distributed in-person to residents of Winton Lifestyle Building — a complex about 30km north of Invercargill which offers motel-style units on short and long-term tenancies.

The letter informed residents that a non-notified inspection was being undertaken by both the council and Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) to make sure the building was safe.

With headings such as "who can help me if I am evicted?", the letter provided contact information for government agencies.

It also said the council hoped to avoid eviction but could not allow anyone to stay in an unsafe building.

Building resident John Scully said the approach from the council felt "very heavy handed" and left occupants fearful they would be booted out.

"They were all talking among themselves.

"People were wondering ‘where are we going to go?’.

"The general tone was that they were anxious and frightened that they were going to have to be kicked out on the day, by the council."

Mr Scully said about half of the residents were elderly, with a number of workers also living there.

"People would be homeless, you see, if they were kicked out of here."

In response to questions from Local Democracy Reporting, the council said it shared concerns with Fenz that fire safety systems in the building were not being maintained appropriately.

Council legal and compliance manager Julie Conradi said the inspection was non-notified because of previous issues with access to the building, and not being able to obtain information from the owner.

"Staff attended this inspection with a welfare officer who had many positive conversations with residents during the inspection, discussing areas of concern with residents as they were communicated, with the intention of reducing any anxiety where possible," Ms Conradi said.

Fifteen residents were engaged, one of whom felt anxious but was unable to explain why to a senior council manager, she said.

The letter given to residents said attempts to communicate with them in the past had been "intercepted", which was why the council visit was unannounced.

Ms Conradi said the mayor had previously tried to communicate with residents by letter, but council were advised many of those had not been delivered to residents.

The current status of the building following the inspection is that it does not comply with both the Building Act 2004 and the Building Code, but does not meet the definition of dangerous.

Owner Frank Kidd disagreed with that, saying there were no issues with the building in the first place.

The requested changes had been made, he said.

"I think that the council’s behaviour is very, very poor."

The council also understood Fenz was tackling concerns directly with the owner.

Mr Kidd said he had not spoken to them for about a year and a-half.

Police were present during the on-site inspection to make sure council staff remained safe.

 - LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.