Rotorua pensioner frustrated by two-year wait to replace windows in council unit

7:48 pm on 5 September 2023
Rotorua pensioner Mary Smith lives at the council's Rawhiti Flats, where she has been waiting for a window replacement. Photo / Andrew Warner - single use

Rotorua pensioner Mary Smith lives at the council's Rawhiti Flats, where she has been waiting for a window replacement. Photo: Andrew Warner

A Rotorua pensioner has waited more than two years for her landlord - Rotorua Lakes Council - to replace her deteriorating windows.

She said she just wants to be able to live out her last years in warmth but the council said it has not been able to find contractors to do the work.

It had 24 units empty awaiting refurbishment, up four from in March when Local Democracy Reporting reported 20 council pensioner flats were empty for renovations amid a housing crisis that left some elderly people sleeping in cars and in emergency housing.

Mary Smith has lived in the Rawhiti Flats off Miller Street for six years. She said for more than two of those, she had been trying to get her single-glazed windows, with their chipped and holey wooden joinery, replaced.

Smith said someone came around to fill a hole with putty on Thursday, the day after Local Democracy Reporting contacted the council for comment.

"It still isn't windows", she said.

She said the replacement windows for her unit and two others had been sitting in an empty unit a few doors down since July 2021.

She said each time she asked the council when they would be installed she felt she was "fobbed off".

This included when she, on behalf of herself and the two neighbouring flats awaiting new windows, in February this year, sent the council a notice that claimed it was in breach of its landlord responsibilities.

The notice was for not replacing the windows as had been requested on "numerous occasions".

Mary Smith was told her windows would be replaced years ago. Photo / Andrew Warner - Single use

Mary Smith was told her windows would be replaced years ago. Photo: Andrew Warner

She said a week later she was told the windows would be installed after the council had finished work on four of its bedsits. Smith said the bedsits were completed two months ago.

She emailed the council again at the end of July requesting the work be done.

The council responded on 8 August, saying the building industry's widely reported labour shortage had impacted the council's ability to get all refurbishments done.

"Securing the usual or suitable contractors to do the required work is dependent on their availability so unfortunately, it is currently taking some time to acquire the necessary contractors to get work on our pensioner housing done."

The response said the council was finalising a new tender for preferred suppliers and trades and hoped to be able to recommence the pensioner housing refurbishment.

"Until such time we are unable to confirm when your windows will be replaced."

Smith responded the next day.

"Are you telling me that there has been a labour shortage for over the last two years? That is how long our windows have been sitting in [the unit]."

She asked what rent was for if not for the upkeep of the homes.

She told Local Democracy Reporting the neighbouring unit's windows were worse, as sections of the panelling appeared rotted. She believed there was also an issue with borer beetle.

"All we want is for our windows to be put in so we can have some warmth, and live out the rest of our years."

She questioned whether the unit met the Healthy Homes Standards.

In response to Smith's comments and to Local Democracy Reporting questions, council corporate services group manager Thomas Collè said it was "very aware of its responsibilities as a landlord", and took those "very seriously".

Rotorua Lakes Council corporate services group manager Thomas Collè. Photo / Andrew Warner - Single use

Rotorua Lakes Council's Thomas Collè. Photo: Andrew Warner

This included the requirement for all of its units to meet Healthy Homes Standards by 1 July 2025, which it had been progressively working towards, he said.

He said all units meet these standards.

"Mrs Smith's windows will be replaced as soon as is possible.

"We have been communicating with her and have explained the situation, including the ongoing challenge we face in finding contractors to do work on our units. This has been a major issue since Covid-19."

He said her window did show signs of "some paint deterioration" and there was a small piece of timber that had come away from the middle fixed window.

"The builder has been out and filled the hole left by the missing timber."

He also said Smith had been told while the windows were being replaced she would need to temporarily move out.

But as there were no available units a solution needed to be found, he said.

"Those that are empty are in need of refurbishment and not currently able to be occupied."

Of the council's 152 pensioner units, 31 had been refurbed in the last six years. Collè said this included nine in the last financial year.

There were 24 units empty in need of refurbishment, and Collè said the work was done as contractor availability and budgets allowed.

Applications for council pensioner housing were closed as the waitlist had reached the 40-person cap.

He did not answer why the unit where the new windows were stored was untenanted.

Other questions asked and not answered included how many complaints there had been from tenants in the last year and what they were about; how much money had been spent on refurbishment and if the council had the money budgeted for what was left to do; and what was the longest time a flat had been empty.

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