18 Apr 2024

Residents upset by possible evacuation of Auckland's City Garden Apartments

5:37 pm on 18 April 2024
City Gardens Apartments on the corner of Albert Street and Durham Street West, in Auckland, on 18 April 2024.

City Gardens Apartments on Albert Street in Auckland CBD. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Financial troubles are underpinning a dangerous apartment building in Auckland which residents have been warned to evacuate.

Auckland Council has issued a Dangerous Building Notice for the City Gardens Apartments on Albert Street.

The building's management said they were short more than $30 million needed for long-term fixes to some fire hazards and recladding.

Residents in the City Gardens Apartments were told last week they may need to evacuate due to significant fire safety defects.

The council was working on remedial work with the building owners - but if necessary measures could not be met by Friday, all occupants needed to get out.

The building has not had a warrant of fitness since 2017, with the council issuing a number of notices to fix (NFTs) and infringement fines as a result.

In August 2023, the council said it carried out an audit on the building after being notified by Fire and Emergency New Zealand of fire safety issues.

The primary concern was the car park stairs being open to potential car fires which could block the way of the apartment building.

The audit was followed up with a meeting with the body corporate, where the issues were discussed and actions were undertaken immediately to avoid a Dangerous Building Notice.

Earlier this month, FENZ reported to the council that a sprinkler had been set off in the building without triggering the building alarm or notifying fire crews.

This incident, as well as a follow up inspection by the council and FENZ, led the council to conclude the building met the threshold of a dangerous building.

Auckland Council said there were no other dangerous building notices for apartment buildings active in the city.

City Gardens Apartments on Albert Street surrounded by roadworks and the City Rail Link project in Auckland central, CBD, on 18 April 2024.

City Gardens Apartments on Albert Street is surrounded by roadworks and the City Rail Link project. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Residents upset by possible evacuation

One resident, Mac, hoped he would be able to stay for a little longer.

"It's terrible," he said.

"I want to just stay here for a period of time, I hope they can fix the problems."

Mac said there should be help for them.

"I think council should give me, give us, some place to stay..."

Residents found out they may need to leave after a notice was posted on the building's entrance, alongside a letter from Fire and Emergency which outlined the building's issues.

In a statement to RNZ, FENZ said it had concerns around whether the building's fire alarms could reliably alert occupants to a fire.

It was also worried whether residents would be able to escape safely, promptly and efficiently if they needed to.

FENZ said it was unclear if the building's hydrant system was able to deliver water for firefighting to the upper levels of the building.

A resident, who RNZ has agreed not to name, said it was very upsetting.

"I feel sad, I cried [for] almost a day."

She moved from Iran six months ago with her husband and nearly 2-year-old son, and said it had been difficult to find anywhere else to stay.

"I'm trying to find a new place and move from this building, but it's really hard for me to find a new place because, you know, I don't have any friends or relatives in here," she said.

"It's really hard to find a new place, I don't know what should I do."

She said there had been other issues in the building as well, including a large number of cockroaches in her apartment.

The body corporate's lawyer, Tim Rainey, said they had a shortfall of more than $30m to get the building up to standard.

The entire cost of remedial work was estimated to be about $75m, but that work to remove the Dangerous Building Notice was funded.

"We're talking in excess of $30m short-fall, between the estimated cost of the work and the money that was available after settlement of the litigation.

"It's a very significant increase in the cost of the work..."

He said they had previously been in litigation with the council over the state of the building.

"This building has long standing building defect issues, which are the subject of a building consent to remediate, it followed on from litigation against the council and others which was settled many years ago."

However, Rainey was confident residents would be able to stay.

"The body corporate is doing everything it can to make sure that those issues are addressed properly," Rainey said.

"We fully expect that by Friday we will have most of those issues fully addressed to the council's satisfaction and the notice will be withdrawn."

Auckland Council general manager of building consents Ian McCormick said they were also expecting a fix to be in place by tomorrow.

"Our expectation is that all of the items that are on the list will have been addressed, or should have been addressed, by Friday.

"If they haven't, the requirement for the occupants to leave the building will still be there."

In that case, residents would need to be out of the City Gardens Apartments by Monday.

If remedial work meets the council's standards - the dangerous building notice can be removed, and residents can stay put.

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