Property manager failed in safety duty, authority alleges

November 6, 2017 | By More

The Real Estate Agents Authority alleges a commercial property manager committed “disgraceful misconduct” by not reporting safety concerns about a building in Colombo Street where an employee was killed in the February 2011 quake.

It opened its case today against Christopher Chapman before the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal in Christchurch at a hearing chaired by former High Court judge Pamela Andrews which is expected to continue for most of the week.

Chapman is defending the allegation, which is brought under the Real Estate Agents Act. Philip Rzepecky appears as defence counsel at the hearing.

The authority’s lawyer, Michael Hodge, told the tribunal that the allegation arose from Chapman’s failure to inform the tenants of the building at 593 Colombo Street – the Southern Ink tattoo parlour – of safety concerns after the earthquake in September 2010.

Matthew McEachen, who worked at the tattoo parlour, was crushed by falling masonry when he tried to flee the building when it collapsed in the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

Mr Hodge said Chapman was the building’s commercial property manager, because he performed that work even though the building’s owners never signed an agreement with him. The question before the tribunal was whether he breached his professional obligations in a manner which rose to the level of misconduct.

Chapman arranged for an engineering inspection, after which a short report was emailed saying that the building was not safe for occupancy and its “yellow” sticker remained in place. Chapman disputes receiving that email.

Mr Hodge said: “What cannot be disputed, we submit, is that the defendant had information that the building was structurally unsafe to occupy and that the premises were untenantable. We know he had this information because it is contained in his own property management reports dated September and December 2010.”

In October, engineers emailed him another report advising that the external walls appeared to be moving out from the building on three levels.

After an inquiry from Southern Ink, Chapman sent an email which did not refer to the premises as being structurally unsafe to occupy, nor the concerns about the external walls.

On February 11, 2011, he received information that immediate work was required just to get the premises fit for occupancy “now”, with additional work to bring them up to 67 percent of the building code. This was not disclosed to the tenant in occupancy, Mr Hodge said.

The authority said the information that had not been disclosed actually “stood out as calling for disclosure”.

“It is not the committee (of the Real Estate Agents Authority) engaging in hindsight, based on what we know happened in February 2011.

“If these tragic events had not happened, it would  not change the case and the submission that the licensee (Chapman) who was in possession of information to the effect that the building was unsafe for occupancy, did not convey that information to the tenant who was still in occupancy.

“We say that the non-disclosure does meet the misconduct threshhold,” Mr Hodge said.

The hearing is continuing.

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