Property dispute threatens Grafton community hub

  • Breaking
  • 22/10/2014

A community hub in a historic Auckland villa could be lost if its tenants can't raise $80,000 by tomorrow.

For the past four years Hum Salon, located next to Grafton Bridge, has been the centre of a community project to restore the once-grand villa from its near-derelict state.

Earlier this month a High Court judge ruled the tenants had to pay almost a year's worth of back rent by October 24 to avoid being evicted. But Hum Salon told the court they were misled about the state of the building when they signed the original contract, and should be allowed to stay.

Rosy Armitage, who spearheads Hum Salon through the Falling Apple Charitable Trust, says the ruling could mean the end of the road for the almost 130-year-old house.

"It's an historic house, it's the last of its kind in Grafton," says Ms Armitage. "If we're removed from the property it's not likely that it will survive - it will continue to erode.

"It was decrepit when we first got it and it's been built up by community… It's really important to us, it's our home, it's something that we invested heavily in and it's used by community groups and individuals alike."

Ms Armitage says the Hum Salon, operating as Hum Hospitality, entered into an extended lease on the property in January 2011 with the intention of restoring the house and eventually setting it up as a restaurant and bar.

In return for promising to complete the restoration work, the tenants received a three-year rent holiday on the understanding that after this time the house would be ready for commercial use and Hum could afford to pay rent, says Ms Armitage.

However, after making what Justice Christian Whata called a "substantial contribution to the improvement of the house" the tenants said they discovered crucial structural work had not been completed, as they were led to believe when they signed the lease. This caused major delays to the project, preventing the house from being business-ready by the three-year deadline.

Hum said the original agreement was signed on the belief that the structural work – which was given a code of compliance by the council – had been completed correctly. However, Hum claimed the house's foundations were never fit for the purpose outlined in the tenancy agreement.

"The short of it is, there's a code of compliance for the full re-piling and re-levelling of the house … but it just hasn't been done," says Ms Armitage.

Speaking on behalf of the house's owner Dr Shen Tat Ooi, lawyer Ray Parmenter says his client did have the house re-piled and re-levelled as claimed and trusted the job had been done properly.

"[The owner] is a doctor; he is not a builder or building surveyor," says Mr Parmenter. "He is entitled to rely on experts."

Hum says it now intends to take further court action to find out who is responsible for the alleged discrepancy, but in the meantime urgently needs to come up with the cash to pay the court-ordered rent, or face eviction. It has currently raised around $5800 through the fundraising website Givealittle

Despite the disputed structural work, Mr Parmenter says the house was clearly leased in an "as is" state and that the tenants went into the deal "with eyes open". He also says Hum's renovations to the house – carried out by a mixture of professionals and volunteers – were substandard.

Now, after almost a year of unpaid rent, Dr Ooi wants the tenants out.

Regardless of whether the trust can meet the rent deadline, Ms Armitage says Hum can still legally seek compensation for all the time and effort they have put in.

But by then it may be too late for the much-loved community space.

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source: newshub archive