Hum and Falling Apple Charitable Trust
People before profit

May 11, 2014

Open Letter to Our Community: We Need Your Help

We are a community project which, in short, has brought a once derelict lifeless but beautiful heritage villa back to life using community volunteers and new Zealand business sponsorship for product. (Read more in ‘External Restoration Initiative‘)  It has taken blood, sweat and tears to get where we are now but we are succeeding.  The approach to the restoration project has been one of conservation, recycling and careful attention to preserving the life of the house. The project continues to be run by full and part-time volunteers, as is necessary to keep a house and project of this kind alive. We have and continue to serve ‘People before Profit’. We come to you now, our community, and ask that you take the time to read this letter and digest it. We need your help.

The restored heritage villa is used by the local and extended community as a relaxing meet up spot for both business and personal use, a place to do music and art, to practice the piano, play ping-pong and meet other like-minded individuals. Community events, workshops and other activities are held here; Amnesty International, Poetry for Peace, Auckland Festival of Photography to name a few. While we have accomplished a great thing in rejuvenating community and the site, overcoming many obstacles, we today face a major hurdle. It has become a David and Goliath battle.

Many of you will know that we were taken to High Court by the landlord to have the lease cancelled and we successfully secured the property for the community. What many of you won’t know is we have been taken to High Court again on the same issues. Litigation was taken up straight after the last decision. We have been under ongoing attack both legally and in other unethical ways for close to a year and a half, an attempt to frustrate our abilities to move forward. We feel now is the time to let our voice be heard.

We have given the Council (who wrongfully issued a Code of Compliance for a Repiling and Releveling job that has not been done) and the landlord (who commissioned the repiler and releveler to do a job which has been described as ‘readying the house for demolition’ rather than preservation) a year to act pertaining to the issues at The Villa-Humhand having various officials from the Auckland Council Building Team visit site, but no one has taken responsibility to-date.   After diplomatically approaching all involved parties and giving hefty leeway in righting wrongs, with no response but blame pointing, we now take it to you, our community.

A summary of the issues at hand are as follows;

  • We took a 20-year lease on the heritage property at 123 Grafton Road, Grafton, Auckland with first right to purchase and first right to renew in 2011
  • The current owner of the property that we have the lease with is Stylo Medical Services.  There are two shareholders to this company which include a Shen Tat Ooi and a Yang Liu.
  • The villa was in a serious state of degradation when we took the lease, we were told the landlord had arrived at point where he was unable to continue its preservation, despite lease advertisements stating the landlord would contribute, thus the house continued to degrade
  • We entered into the lease agreement and made allowance for a three year rent free period based on the fact the repiling and releveling had been done and a base calculation of remedial work to restore the villa.  A year and a half into heavy investment into the villa including deck restructuring and what has amounted to a facelift the landlord took up litigation against us
  • In our lease we take full responsibility for the property, including payment of rates and maintenance. The villa was in an untenable state, so no return could be gotten from the premise, so the three-year rent-free period was agreed on so the site could be brought into a usable place and we began a front-loaded investment into a property that we would have for twenty years at minimum.
  • The landlord’s work on the property prior to us taking the lease included;
    • the removal of protected native trees at the back of the property which ‘Housing New Zealand Corporation’, the prior owners, were having difficulties getting permission to remove so they could access the house for demolition, the trees preservation ultimately meaning the preservation of the villa
    • the placement of indoor T&G on the top of the old rotten deck T&G to hide deficiencies
    • piling portions of the house to keep it standing, leaving structural rot, not touching areas of the house, not connecting beams, no lift of house for remedial work, a job called one readying the house for removal/demolition rather than preservation
    • internal staircase work with random non-replica balustrades temporarily installed which remain today
  • The house was given a Heritage B stamp by the council, due to community efforts prior to us taking the lease.
  • Heritage houses have been and can still be demolished if they are deemed to be a public hazard.  Our serious investment in preserving the villa stands in the way of the villa been demolished, anyone who wants the villa demolished did not want us to invest so heavily in the hefty remedial work.  The deficient repiling and releveling on the house leaves the house open for demolition if we are successfully removed.  The repiling and releveling speaks to the structure of the house.   On paper structural deficiencies do not bide well for a heritage property, especially when they have prime positioning on land desired for development.
  • This demolition order was supposed to have lapsed in 2009 but in 2013 we found out that the order was still live.  It was not disclosed to us how or who was renewing it each year.  We had it immediately aborted but the council will not put in writing to us that it is aborted.
  • Prior to us taking the lease it was relayed to us by the landlord that the house had been repiled and releveled
  • We were given a Code of Compliance that confirmed the house has undertaken a full repile and relevel by the landlord’s project manager Chong Klaus
  • On this fact we underwent serious investment and restorative work on the property.  The first signs of deficiencies in the sub-floor coming when, over-night, portions of the lower deck buckled up, nails ripped from their place, as if there had been an earthquake. One of our builders removed boards to get right up and under the house for a thorough inspection to find that the house has not been repiled and releveled, rather some piles have been put in to keep the house standing but they are not attached to the house. Some areas of the house have not been touched. Piles have just been jammed alongside others. Structural rotten framework has not been touched. Deck structural beams are attached to nothing. Rot remains through-out.
  • A re-piling and re-leveling job is something you do before you do any other work. As we all know, foundations come first.  This involves a unified house lift, replacement of all rot to structural beams, including all rotten pillars. This has not been done as was represented. The job done has been described as one readying the house for demolition.
  • On further investigation into the property file we found the following;

    • It is noted the Building Consent application for the full re-piling and re-leveling of the house was submitted and stamped as received by council on 6 May 2009, however, no plans were submitted at this time despite the application checklist stating so
    • On the 18 May 2009, the plans for this work, were submitted that were to accompany the already filed Building Consent application
      • The plans arrive after the building consent application despite the building application stating they are submitted
      • the plans are not for a full re-pile and re-level as per the building consent and code of compliance
      • the plans are hand drawn, a rough sketch and not to scale so should not have been accepted by Council
      • the plans lack an engineer’s report so would not be accepted by Council
      • the plans are inaccurate in regards to the public drainage distance from the re-piling job, on the plans stating over 2 metres while been in fact being 50 cm’s thus requiring Watercare to be notified and further documentation to be provided
      • the plans clearly state ‘Veranda to be demolished’ which is in breach of the Heritage category and should not have been submitted neither should they have been accepted by Council
    • the associated Code of Compliance, granted 24 September 2009, is for the full re-piling and re-leveling of the villa as per email from Council, as was told us before taking the house, but has not been done.
    • we requested further documentation pertaining to the property file that had been withheld under the Official Information act, some documents were released, but not all and communication was sent to us to put in a request to the Ombudsmen if all files are to be released
  • The project cannot continue its restorative work until the repiling and releveling job is done. To enable the site to make an income this work needs to be done.  The landlord refuses to acknowledge our requests for a sit down and discuss the issues at hand but rather continues his tactic to litigate. We are frozen in time pertaining to the building work but are still able to use the site for many community activities.
  • Much of our work will be damaged when the repiling and releveling is done. This needs to be addressed.
  • We have been told that the repiling and releveling work was done without a building consent by a repiler and releveler who was offered cash to do a certain kind of job but refused on ethical grounds,  this individual says he sited the work been done and the deficient work underway.
    • How is it now that there is some form of documentation pertaining to a Building Consent for the repiling and releveling being done in 2009?
    • How is it that it has a Code of Compliance despite the right documentation not been present on the file?
    • Why aren’t the deficient plans, attached to the Building Consent, even married to the work that is under the house?
    • What year was is when the piles were put under the house; 2008 under ‘Housing New Zealand’ corporation or 2009 under ‘Stylo Medical Services’.
    • Were plans submitted to the council on work already completed earlier that pertained to a demolition order?

Our approach has always been one to sit down and dialogue over issues. Unfortunately the landlord has chosen a different path and having us removed from this site at all costs has been his course of action including deformation and other tactical plays that this community body will not stoop to meet. Rather we have waited close to two years to set the record straight, allowing all involved parties ample time to take responsibility and right wrongs.

It has not been easy for a community of volunteers to maintain a property this size, remedy ongoing damage to work due to the repiling and releveling not being done, run a coffee shop, answer to council, defend things legally, and serve our community all at once. We are merely mortals and enough is enough.

While we wait on justice Whata’s decision on this second High Court hearing, which is exactly the same case that has already been heard, we take leave from the project to seriously consider the meaning of quality of life. Serving people before profit does not forget the fact that the people that serve are just that; people.

Please peruse our website to see the miracle that community has delivered in preserving this house. The hearts and hands that have put love and labour into not only the physical restoration but community restoration. Community envelops all of us including the people who are on the streets, the families that rent houses, the visitors who come to stay.  We thank those who have supported to-date and recognize the contribution that hours of labour or even a simple smile of an encouragement has brought. We celebrate what has been accomplished to-date and now take time to marinate on these accomplishments and make a decision on how to move forward in the future.

We would like to acknowledge those people in our communities who serve without expectation of reward.  This could be your grandfather who clears a drain with his walking stick to prevent possible flooding. This is those who pick up rubbish that they see along their way. Those who clear broken glass from the beach so our children are safe. We acknowledge those people today and if that is you, we say thank you for thinking of us, our children and our future generations. Without the things you do we would have no society, no community, no care and no love. Thank you for keeping this alive. We hope you will consider ways that you can help us to keep this house and dream alive.

Perhaps someone in our community can help answer some of these questions?  Please contact us via email if you can recall exactly when there appeared to be work done under the house or if you have any further information pertaining to the saga that is unraveling before us.  If you require anonymity over the said issues we are able to provide this.