Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

Owner of $1m Remuera home at centre of duplex demolition row gives up fight with neighbour

An Auckland man who has just discovered the neighbours of his duplex home plan to demolish their side is thinking twice about legal action and instead focussing on re-building his own home.

Muhannad Alwahb lives in a duplex property at 76 Spencer St, Remuera. Up until Sunday morning he knew nothing about his neighbour's plans to demolish their side of the property and re-build a new home.

Mr Alwahb has lived in his Spencer St home - with a CV of $1 million - for 13 years. His neighbours, Gerard Davis and Sumi King, bought their half - valued at $1.2 million - five years ago.

Mr Alwahb says his neighbours told him the demolition would happen in days or weeks and he is now worried his house will suffer irreparable damage when the excavation and demolition begins as a council geotechnical report confirmed the sloping site was "subject to instability".

However, when approached at his home yesterday, Mr Davis said he and Sumi King had done nothing wrong and that no deadline had been set for construction to begin.

Yesterday, Mr Alwahb thought his only option was to seek an injunction.

But after being inundated with messages of support and ideas at home this morning, he has accepted the fate of his house and now wants to find an architect who will come up with a "creative" and "interesting" design for his home.

"I want to turn a bad situation into good. [Re-build] is going to happen regardless and I just need to make sure that it happens right and to find a creative, smart architect who can change this bad thing and re-model it into something good ... make something nice and interesting."

He planned to lengthen his home given the property's narrow boundary of 9 metres.

"The party wall will be part of the design and I can end up with something nice out of this disaster. I don't have any other choice, actually ... [otherwise] it will be really awkward and out of place, like a shack in the middle of nowhere."

However, Mr Alwahb said he would be watching the demolition and development process like a hawk to make sure his property was not affected or damaged.

He was still unimpressed with the actions of the council of his neighbours, neither of whom alerted him to the development.

"I will fight Auckland Council because I will make a complaint for allowing this because it should never have happened and they should take responsibility but I know at the end of the day I can't stop it. The only thing I can do is to force them to make it right; to monitor it and for it not to damage my house, that's the first objective. The second objective, looking forward after [house build] is done, is do something useful and make [my house] a liveable place."

Muhannad Alwahb was presented with a fait accompli: his neighbours had gained council consent for the work without his knowledge. Picture / Doug Sherring
Muhannad Alwahb was presented with a fait accompli: his neighbours had gained council consent for the work without his knowledge. Picture / Doug Sherring

The neighbours' resource consent demolish and re-build was approved in June last year.

As part of its process, the council had to determine whether to notify any affected landowner or occupier.

In this case, council staff deemed the impact on Mr Alwahb and his house to be less than minor while the development "cannot be described as out of the ordinary [or] giving rise to special circumstances".

The council says the proposed work has been specifically designed to ensure there is no damage to Mr Alwahb's property. Inspectors will carefully monitor the project to ensure there is no damage caused to his home.

Jeff Fahrensohn, council manager of inspections and building control, said resource consent isn't required to demolish a building - those issues are dealt with in the building consent.

The resource consent covers whether there will be an impact on neighbours from a new build - however, in this case the build itself is deemed to have a "less than minor" effect.

As for the impact of the demolition - covered under the building consent issued earlier this month - there was no formal obligation on council to notify affected parties, it instead fell on those carrying out the demolition to inform affected parties.

"While contacting neighbours is not a formal requirement of a building consent, we would expect that as a common courtesy, anyone wanting to do construction work is talking to their neighbours about their proposal."

However, property law expert Adina Thorn was surprised council didn't inform Mr Alwahb during the resource consent process after a geotechnical report discovered the land was "subject to instability".

"He's got every right to be concerned and there's any material risk to him he should have been notified of the resource consent in terms of fairness."

Local councillor for Orakei Cameron Brewer says he's surprised at the lack of both formal and informal notification of the demolition work.

"Even if some hide behind the lack of statutory requirement, the council as the monopoly regulator in this instance surely has an obligation to ensure adequate and timely information is issued to the family who is effectively in the same building. Council has over 11,000 staff, surely one person on a quiet Friday could've notified this family of at least the publicly available information and due process by phone or letter. You can't assume that everyone in modern-day Auckland is friendly with their neighbours. Council's communications for people living in the likes of freehold semi-detached homes facing partial demolition really needs to be improved particularly when you consider all the imminent intensification."

- NZ Herald

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