Residents in quake-prone building forced to find new homes

6:30 pm on 3 May 2018

People living in a quake-prone Lower Hutt apartment building will have to find new homes following their landlords' conviction for failing to carry out urgent strengthening work.

No caption

There are people renting six of the eight apartments at 307 Jackson Street Photo: RNZ / Katie Doyle

Lower Hutt realtors Jitesh and Jigesha Govind are facing a fine of up to $200,000 after being prosecuted by Hutt City Council over their Petone property - in what's believed to be the first case of its kind.

Their company, Alura, pleaded guilty in the Hutt Valley District Court to not quake-proofing the apartment block at 307 Jackson Street in Petone's heritage precinct.

It will be sentenced in August and could be fined up to $200,000.

Michael, his wife and two young children have lived in one of the building's top-storey flats for almost three years.

Michael only learned of the impending evacuation when visited by RNZ news.

"That's a bit of nightmare we've been trying to avoid and don't really want to think about," he said.

"I really don't know where we're going to end up or what's going to happen or how it's all going to play out.

"Basically, our life will probably have to pretty much stop and focus everything on just trying to find suitable accomodation somewhere," he said.

The owners had not kept them informed of progress, he said.

"I haven't spoken to them about it, and they haven't mentioned it to us - I knew that there was certain timeframes for work to be done and I knew it hadn't been done, but I didn't know what was happening or if anything was going to happen about it.

"I knew this day was coming, but I was trying not to think about it and hoping it wouldn't come," he said.

Six of the eight apartments are currently occupied.

Council spokesperson Helen Oram said the prosecution followed repeated attempts since 2008 by the council to get the building's owner, Alura Ltd, to strengthen the building to a safe standard.

She said the council had been more than patient with the company but law changes, the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, and the growing body of science around earthquake-prone buildings meant urgent action was needed.

"We have issued a notice to an owner saying that they need to take reasonable grounds to make the building safe and they haven't taken that action," she said.

"So the bottom line for us is public safety and the protection of human life, so we've taken action against this company."

Tenants would now be asked to leave the property, Ms Oram said.

The council is notifying occupants to vacate the building for it to be strengthened or demolished.

"It's a decision that the council has not taken lightly because we are acutely aware of the disruption it will cause to tenants, but because we've worked with the company for a number of years [and] there have been a lot of opportunities for them to talk to [tenants]" Ms Oram said.

Neither Jitesh and Jigesha Govind would be interviewed but in a statement said they were working with an architect and engineer to find a practical solution.

"We fully intend that the building will comply with council standards.

"We have always kept our tenants informed of the status of the building," they said.

Ms Oram said other buildings had also been investigated.

"There aren't any more residentially occupied buildings in the Hutt in this situation, but there certainly are commercial buildings," she said.

"Certainly after the success of this case, we are definitely looking to take action against owners who are planning to drag their feet on strengthening work and I believe they should take notice of this."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs