'Frustration' over delay in defining emergency housing

4:31 pm on 24 November 2022
Rotorua district councillor Robert Lee

Rotorua district councillor Robert Lee Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

Some Rotorua district councillors have expressed frustration over waiting for a government ministry to provide work on a definition of emergency housing, which would help the council enforce its regulations.

In response, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says the work has been "given the appropriate prioritisation in the current case load" and had issued a draft decision on November 14.

The discussion happened in a full council meeting on Thursday, where Rotorua Lakes Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston and community wellbeing deputy chief executive Anaru Pewhairangi updated elected members on the council's regulatory approach to "non-tourist accommodation" - emergency housing motels.

In the meeting, Gaston said the Building Act was "ambiguous" about the definition of emergency housing, so in the absence of clarity and relevant case law, the council had requested a determination on the matter from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

"When there's that ambiguity, you can submit a case to them and they determine it.

"We felt this was critically important from a building safety perspective - all of you are aware of the number of fires which have occurred in motels being used for emergency housing over the last year. I think the number is seven or eight.

"As a community, we're incredibly lucky there hasn't been any loss of lives."

He said it was important to get the determination so the council could make a judgement about the standards that emergency housing premises must adhere to if they were used for residential, rather than visitor purposes.

Gaston said the council applied for the determination in late January this year, and had expected its delivery by May, but it had not been forthcoming.

He said in the meantime the council took the position that motels being used for residential purposes was a change of use under the Act.

"There's a definition under the Building Act which talks sleeping accommodation ... and there's another definition that talks about sleeping residential, and they have different standards under the Building Act for the type of premise."

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

In the meeting councillor Conan O'Brien said there was "an element of real frustration" in the community about what he viewed was "a lack of urgency in our regulatory approach".

"The idea that we've been waiting on a definition from government - I understand the wheels of government turn slow, but this sounds like they're almost in full reverse - almost a year, seems to me to be unacceptable."

He said he hoped council officers worked with more urgency.

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell said she understood the frustration but said the staff had been "working very hard" at the regulatory approach.

"They have provided a direction of how we can move forward and give the community confidence that through our district plan, through the Building Act and through the Resource Management Act, and now with new leaders around the table, the community will see a different approach."

She said there was "awkwardness" for councils nationally "when the Government is choosing to use buildings in a way that they were not consented for".

Councillor Robert Lee said he was pleased to see the council taking enforcement steps despite challenges.

Rotorua Lakes Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston.

Rotorua Lakes Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

"The council are moving forward with enforcement even though MBIE haven't got off their - um, haven't done their job yet."

Councillor Rawiri Waru said he couldn't wait until the determination was delivered as it "would help" but it was a nationwide struggle.

Gaston said he understood MBIE's work had delays stemming from extracting evidence from motels, as well as staffing challenges.

Deputy mayor Sandra Kai Fong said the council was trying to move as quickly as possible to take a strong regulatory approach.

"We're trying to shut the door for motels that had previously operated as emergency housing and wanting to move back into that space, that they can't then go back."

In the meeting Gaston also said the council was making sure potential motel buyers knew emergency housing was unconsented activity by flagging it in Land Information Memoranda - LIM - reports.

Kai Fong said it was another disincentive "for moteliers to think that they can sell their motels for exorbitant sums of money, thinking they can continue to make money for an unconsented business".

Councillor Gregg Brown said he felt the approach "makes perfect sense".

"At some point in time, when we've got all of our tools in place, that we draw a line in the sand and we take enforcement action for those who won't play the game ... sooner rather than later."

no metadata

Outside of the meeting, MBIE building resolution national manager Katie Gordon said the determination was an important matter for the operation of emergency housing and the safety and well-being of the people involved.

She said it had been "given the appropriate prioritisation in the current caseload" and MBIE had issued a draft decision on November 14.

There was now an opportunity for "parties" to the decision to provide MBIE with submissions before the determination was made, she said.

In the meeting, the council also unanimously agreed to appoint councillor Gregg Brown as the councillor representative to the Rotorua Lakes Community Board, and councillor Karen Barker to the Rotorua Rural Community Board.

Three items were discussed in a public-excluded section of the meeting. They were a contract for road seal extension on Maleme Rd, "industrial land development" and the Rotorua Housing Accord.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs