Loafers Lodge fire: Survivors of Wellington blaze still waiting for bond refunds

By Soumya Bhamidipati for RNZ

The director of Loafers Lodge says tenants will get their bonds back, but he does not know when that might happen.

Gregory Mein told RNZ in a text message the Newtown building, which went up in flames last week in a suspected arson, was a crime scene and police were in possession of the hostel's administration systems.

"Police have all our computer systems so we must work through this. Safety is of paramount importance.

"When police release the building, we will put engineers and a safety person through it to determine how safe it is. If and when this happens, we will work with our tenants to enable them to uplift their possessions. All bonds held will be refunded."

Tenancy Services, a branch of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said it could not disclose how many bonds it held for the accommodation on Adelaide Road, nor the value of them. It also would not reveal whether any bond refund forms had been lodged following the fatal fire.

"For privacy reasons, and as this address is currently an active police investigation, Tenancy Services is unable to provide this information," operations manager Ota Savaiinaea said in a statement.

"Any bond refunds would need to be made in accordance with processes within the Residential Tenancies Act."

Tenants who lost everything except their lives in the blaze said the money would help them make a new start. Tamrat Adan said he paid $1150 to cover two weeks' bond and two weeks' rent in advance, and having access to the money now would make a huge difference.

"If I get my bond it's going to help me in lots of ways, there's so many things I've got to buy," Adan said.

"My own mobile, and shoes and clothing - so many things I've lost."

No one had contacted Adan about returning his bond, he said, but he had just been given a phone number for a Loafers Lodge staff member who he was planning to call.

The police were expected to remain at the scene of the blaze for most of this week. Meanwhile, social agencies were scrambling to find long-term accommodation for those displaced by the fire.

Loafers Lodge fire: Survivors of Wellington blaze still waiting for bond refunds
Photo credit: RNZ

The Ministry of Social Development was helping about 40 people with emergency housing, but this number changed daily, general manager of housing Karen Hocking said in a statement.

"Our support includes clothing, footwear, food grants, and emergency housing special needs grants.

"This includes both immediate emergency assistance, and supporting their search for sustainable long-term accommodation."

Kāinga Ora Greater Wellington regional director Vicki McLaren said in a statement the agency had placed two residents into permanent homes.

"Our role is to provide housing to those on the housing register, and it is our top priority to ensure that the affected people who are on the register are rehoused as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

"As of now, we have successfully placed two people who were affected by the fire into long-term homes. We are now working on providing long-term housing for another 11 residents this week."

The agency had also been conducting welfare checks on nearby customers, McLaren said.

Adan yesterday moved into a central Wellington motel, along with four other survivors, after spending four nights at a hostel.

"We had a very big and hard time, and miserable, so at least we get here, there is cooking (facilities) there, small fridge, own shower."

While it was a return to some sense of normality, the uncertainty continued as the lease was only for 90 days, he said.

"I don't know if after that they're going to renew, or if they'll get another house."