Rotorua Lakes Council issues Spa Lodge dangerous building notices, residents moved out after fire

8:10 pm on 29 November 2023
Rotorua's Spa Lodge

Rotorua's Spa Lodge. Photo: Ben Fraser / LDR

Twenty people have been moved out of a Rotorua lodge issued two dangerous building notices in a week - the first for dead-bolting residents in at night.

The second notice was issued to Spa Lodge after a fire on its deck last week. The fire happened while Rotorua Lakes Council was awaiting a fire safety assessment that later found the building had an "extremely high fire risk".

The lodge on Amohau St in the CBD had moved from hosting tourists to providing emergency housing in recent years and lately had been taking long-term tenants.

Council community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said a person contacted the council about the "sanitary conditions" at Spa Lodge on 6 November.

Staff contacted the lodge and were invited to inspect it on November 16.

"During the inspection staff had concerns for the occupants' safety, given that the exit doors were being dead-bolted at night, locking occupants inside the building," Gaston said.

The council issued a dangerous building notice that day and the operator was given time to rectify the issues. The council also requested advice from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).

Before the report landed, firefighters were called to Spa Lodge on 20 November.

Rotorua Lakes Council community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston

Rotorua Lakes Council community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston. Photo: Laura Smith / LDR

A FENZ spokesperson said crews were called to a fire on the deck of a property in Rotorua at 9.53am.

The fire was extinguished and the matter was referred to police.

Gaston said the council was told about the fire that day and given further advice.

It received the FENZ report on 22 November and issued the second dangerous building notice ordering the occupants be removed "for their own safety".

Gaston said the lodge was being used for non-tourism accommodation that allowed long-term guests and is not an emergency housing provider.

'Extremely high fire risk'

The FENZ assessment, provided to Local Democracy Reporting by the council, concluded injury or death was considered "likely" in the event of a fire at the lodge.

"I [the report author] consider there is an extremely high fire risk to occupants in this building day or night, given the high risk/needs of the clientele, the inoperable handheld firefighting equipment, inadequate fire alarm system and the known behaviour of these occupants during a fire.

"I am concerned that a fire will grow out of control before anyone notices it, leaving occupants little time to escape."

The building also lacked an approved evacuation scheme and procedure, according to the report.

"The risk is heightened given the owner and management's apparent disregard for fire safety legislation."

Gaston said the council had a regulatory role in making sure buildings were safe and fit for purpose, and the FENZ assessment found the Spa Lodge was not, so the council acted to reduce the risk to the occupants "as quickly as possible".

He said the lodge owner, Ministry of Social Development and Rotorua housing hub Te Pokapū helped to find alternative accommodation for the 20 people living at the lodge.

He said the building could not be occupied until its fire safety features provided a safe environment. The requirements had been discussed with the operator and other relevant agencies but the actions taken would depend on how the lodge would be used in future.

"Since the notice was issued the owner has been co-operative and is working with council to rectify the issues raised."

The notices were the only two issued by the council this year.

The notice, displayed on the outside of the building, said the owner must complete works to remove or reduce danger by February.

The Spa Lodge owner was approached for comment.

Rotorua Mayor Tania Tapsell

Rotorua Mayor Tania Tapsell. Photo: Andrew Warner

The council signed the Rotorua Housing Accord with the government and iwi last year aiming to address emergency housing issues in the city.

Under the accord, it had been looking at tenancies in backpackers and hostels.

Rotorua Mayor Tania Tapsell said people's health and safety must come first.

Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Jacob Davies said the ministry does not "place people in boarding houses or hostels".

Davies said it had no power to tell people where they should live, inspect their living arrangements, inspect buildings or monitor compliance with building regulations.

"Our staff provide people with advice about their options, and assess eligibility for financial assistance."

He said the ministry welcomed council action on unsafe buildings.

"We expect accommodation suppliers to meet the standards set by all the relevant regulatory authorities and for those authorities to take action where necessary."

The ministry paid accommodation supplements to over 350,000 households, about 29,000 of those in the Bay of Plenty.

What is a dangerous building notice?

Under the Building Act, a dangerous building is one that "in the ordinary course of events" - excluding earthquakes - is likely to cause injury or death to anyone in or on the property, or damage to other property.

A building can also be deemed dangerous if death or injury is likely in a fire to anyone in the building or on other property.

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

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