PHOTO: Photo: RNZ / Hamish Cardwell
Government Audit Reveals 70 Boarding Houses Without Sprinklers
Loafers Lodge Fire Triggers Inspection of Multi-Storey Accommodations
Housing Minister Implements Immediate Changes to Building Regulations
A government audit, prompted by the tragic Loafers Lodge fire, has brought to light 70 multi-storey boarding houses scattered across the country lacking sprinkler systems. In response to this concerning discovery, officials are scheduled to commence inspections of these properties starting next month. The outcomes of these inspections will play a pivotal role in shaping future regulatory reforms.
Housing Minister, Megan Woods, has already initiated several immediate changes, including the establishment of consistent guidelines for inspectors responsible for issuing building warrants of fitness. This move comes after Prime Minister Chris Hipkins requested a thorough review of building regulations for high-density accommodations to ensure their suitability.
Woods and the chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment have reached out to all councils and mayors across the country, seeking detailed information about boarding houses in their respective areas. As a result of this inquiry, the 70 buildings akin to Loafers Lodge were identified. Disturbingly, none of these properties, which are all at least three storeys tall, are equipped with sprinklers.
The boarding houses are spread across 13 different areas, with the highest concentration found in Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown Lakes.
Woods emphasized the potential risks associated with mismanagement of these properties, stating, “It doesn’t mean that they are [problematic], it just means that they’re buildings that are of concern.”
In August, Tenancy Services’ tenancy compliance team and local councils will conduct inspections of the identified buildings, a process estimated to span two months. The findings from these inspections, coupled with information from ongoing investigations by Fire and Emergency and the police into the Loafers Lodge fire, will inform updates to the health and safety regulations within the building framework.
Another critical area being addressed by the government is the lack of consistency in building warrant of fitness (WOF) inspections across different councils. To address this, the government is working with councils to establish standardized rules for independent inspectors. These new standards will include competency requirements, a code of ethics, fit and proper persons tests, and conflict of interest declarations. Additionally, discussions are underway to create a national register of independent inspectors, streamlining the current system.
Lastly, the government aims to remind boarding house operators of their responsibilities, as some councils have expressed concerns about operators not fully comprehending their obligations. This includes ensuring clear fire exits and unobstructed pathways. In light of the recent tragic event, the government is committed to seizing this opportunity to ensure that all operators are well-informed about their duties.
Megan Woods stressed the importance of personal engagement, stating, “I’d probably think one of those critical opportunities is probably burning some boot leather and getting out and door knocking and… speaking to a lot of our operators.”