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Person falls down damaged stairwell in building with chequered history

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 Jun 2024, 9:43am
Emergency services outside Wellington's Pringle House. Photo / Ethan Manera
Emergency services outside Wellington's Pringle House. Photo / Ethan Manera

Person falls down damaged stairwell in building with chequered history

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 11 Jun 2024, 9:43am

A person has been injured falling three floors down a stairwell in an abandoned quake-prone Wellington building, with a search now underway to find if others are still inside.

Emergency services rushed to the vacant Pringle House near Wellington’s waterfront this morning after reports of people being injured due to “structural issues”.

A witness reported seeing seven ambulances, two police cars and two fire trucks outside the building.

Emergency services outside the Amora Hotel. Photo / Ethan ManeraEmergency services outside Pringle House. Photo / Ethan Manera

One of those involved in the response initially said there were several trespassers in the abandoned building who had been injured due to a structural issue.

FENZ Assistant Commander Martin Wilby said they now believe only one person was injured, after falling three floors down a stairwell that had been damaged in a prior earthquake.

He said the person was believed to have fallen last night.

It’s unclear if others remain in the building but searchers will now be going “floor-by-floor” to check for anyone still inside.

Pringle House is located next to Amora Hotel, also quake-prone and vacant. Photo / Ethan ManeraPringle House is located next to Amora Hotel, also quake-prone and vacant. Photo / Ethan Manera

Jason Dunn from Prime Property, the building’s owner, said there had been a “significant issue” with homeless entering the building recently.

He said in the last 90 days they’ve removed and issued trespass notices to “probably 18″ people.

Emergency responders can be seen entering the building this morning, with another group huddled around a side entrance.

The building, at 142 Wakefield St, suffered damage to its stairwells during the 2013 Seddon earthquakes.

Greater Wellington Regional Council used to occupy the building and staff were relocated as a result.

Council chairman Daran Ponter previously told the Herald the problem was the building was effectively comprised of two buildings side by side.

”The two buildings had smacked against each other in the earthquake, ripped out all the pipe work between them, and all the water had effectively flowed between the buildings onto everyone’s computer equipment and throughout the whole building.”

Upon further investigation the building was found to be earthquake-prone, meaning it was less than 34 per cent of the New Building Standard.

The deadline to strengthen the building expires in 2027.

Amora Hotel. Photo / Ethan ManeraAmora Hotel. Photo / Ethan Manera 

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean confirmed the council was aware of the incident and would be looking into it further in its capacity as building regulator.

“Wellington City Council is taking an interest but it’s a live situation, we are talking to authorities, it’s early days.”

In 2016, an unknown number of tenants were found living in Pringle House, which was owned by Prime Property Group at that time.

The company was also found to be housing a family of four, a bankrupt businessmen and a sickness beneficiary in a commercial building on Molesworth Street, which has since been demolished after the Kaikōura earthquake.

Prime Property Group director Eyal Aharoni previously told the Herald he was just trying to house the homeless.

”Those are basically two buildings that we own which are completely empty and there are a lot of people out there who have nowhere to live and we are essentially trying to help people.”

Aharoni said the arrangement at the Wakefield St building was more transient than at Molesworth St.

”They were coming and going, there were a few people there but I can’t tell you how many.”

He said the people who stayed at Wakefield St paid about $100 rent a week.

The 85-ton excavator at work on the demolition of 61 Molesworth Street in Wellington. Photo / Mark MitchellThe 85-ton excavator at work on the demolition of 61 Molesworth Street in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Tenancy Tribunal fined Prime Property $7520 for renting out the Molesworth St building.

Tribunal adjudicator Rex Woodhouse noted in his decision that the tenants had been put in a situation so risky, it was “chilling”.

He said documents for fire inspection showed that various fire protection systems had been shut off, as the provider thought the building was vacant.

Aharoni said he regretted allowing people to stay in the properties.

He said his actions were not an isolated case and many other empty office blocks in the city were rented out for residential use.

”The action against me possibly will make landlords think twice and possibly create a further squeeze in the residential market, making accommodation even harder to find, but that’s for MBIE to decide what they want to do.”

In 2017, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment compliance and investigations team manager Steve Watson said the Wakefield St tenancies were not being investigated.

”It’s impossible to investigate without co-operation from tenants, and the file has been closed due to a lack of usable evidence.”

MBIE has been approached for comment about the incident at the property this morning.

Prime Property Group director Eyal Aharoni has also been approached for comment.

Ethan Manera is a multimedia journalist based in Wellington. He joined NZME in 2023 and is interested in politics, local issues and the public service. Ethan is always on the lookout for a story and can be emailed at [email protected] or messaged on X (formerly Twitter) @ethanjmanera

Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.

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