Council finds half of Auckland boarding houses have fire safety deficiencies

Auckland Council has been checking 170 buildings since the fatal Loafers Lodge fire in May raised the alarm about fire standards.
Auckland Council has been checking 170 buildings since the fatal Loafers Lodge fire in May raised the alarm about fire standards. Photo credit: Via RNZ

By Phil Pennington for RNZ

Auckland Council has found two Loafers Lodge-type boarding houses bad enough to trigger a dangerous building notice.

It also found another 80 or so out of 170 with fire safety problems, like smokestop doors wedged open or rubbish blocking fire exits, which spurred less drastic but immediate action.

Auckland Council inspections manager Jeff Fahrensohn said it was "a surprise" how many low-cost accommodation providers they found with fire safety shortcomings.

Council has been checking 170 buildings since the fatal Loafers Lodge fire in May raised the alarm about fire standards at providers where large numbers of often poor people live cramped together.

No compromised alarm systems were found, Fahrensohn said.

But the discovery that 40 to 50 percent had some sort of deficiency was sobering, he said.

"It was a surprise, actually.

"And it's really interesting because talking to the building managers and the owner ... it goes to show how much ... lack of knowledge they have. They just didn't know."

He would not identify the two worst ones, only to say they each housed 50 to 100 people and were still operating, but now with 24/7 security on hand.

His team was moving down "the dangerous building notice route" with those two.

They had failings such as busted emergency lights and blocked exits.

"If it was dangerous to a point where we felt the building had to be evacuated, we would have initiated that," Fahrensohn told RNZ in an interview.

He conceded the residents might not know what had happened.

The two did not have a track record of failings. "They were fine the last time we audited."

The other 80 or so other problem buildings had the likes of exits blocked, like by furniture, but of a type and scale that was remedied straight away.

The law makes building owners responsible in the first place to keep safety systems up to scratch with routine checks and regular expert building warrant of fitness audits.

Fahrensohn promised more education but also that "we'll escalate to enforcement where we have to".

For the 170 checked, council was investigating 13 further:

  • looking at two dangerous building notices
  • issued one Notice to Fix, and processing three others
  • issued one infringement notice
  • closed out one job

The government also has its own llist of 70 buildings nationwide similar to Loafers Lodge (low-cost, multi-storeyed and not sprinklered).

Auckland Council said the ones in its region on that MBIE list had been covered already by auditing the 170.

Fahrenson said he had not heard from the ministry about another, separate round of audits related to its separate national list of 70.

This was despite MBIE saying these joint audits would start soon, with "preparations for the joint site visits ... well under way".

"They'll obviously make contact with us when they're ready to do those audits and we're ready for that," he said of MBIE.

Pressed on why the council and ministry were not more co-ordinated, he said: "That's something you would need to approach MBIE about. I don't know the full details."