Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Brothels upset Epsom neighbours

Investigations under way into sex sites residents say are a blight on well-to-do Epsom.

132 Clinic Massage. Photo / Greg Bowker
132 Clinic Massage. Photo / Greg Bowker

A cluster of premises offering commercial sex are operating within a kilometre of one another in an upmarket Auckland city-fringe suburb, irking residents and businesses in an area where house prices average over $820,000.

Four Chinese-operated massage clinics on the Epsom end of Manukau Rd offer sexual services and the Herald understands at least three other private homes off the main street are also being used as brothels.

Margot St resident Stace Hartley, who has lodged a complaint with the Auckland Council, said the brothels had "split Epsom into two ... just like K Rd and Ponsonby".

"We pay a premium in rent because this was supposed to be a prime Auckland suburb, but it's really becoming a pain living here when you get strangers knocking at your door asking if this is where they can buy sex."

The mother of two said she was told by a brothel customer who mistakenly knocked on her door that three houses within metres of her home were being used by sex workers.

Annette Hakaraia, chairwoman of Te Unga Waka Marae, which is located at the corner of Clyde St and Manukau Rd, said the brothel issue would be on the agenda at a meeting on Sunday.

"Our marae is used by families with children, and there's even a church in here ... We are not happy about having these sex shops around."

Paula Hakaraia, a marae office volunteer worker, said she had noticed an increase in traffic and parking problems between 11am and 3pm.

"These are definitely not cars belonging to mothers picking kids up from school."

A therapist at Epsom Thai Massage and Spa, which is not a brothel, said it was also seeing an increase in the number of walk-in customers seeking sex.

"We have to tell them to go to the other massage places because we don't do that type of massage," said Rungtip Kongim.

The council said it was aware of "a number of brothels" operating in the area, and several complaints were being investigated.

Under the Prostitution Reform Act, small owner-operated brothels which did not have more than four sex workers could operate without a brothel licence, so it was not possible to say exactly how many were based in the area.

"Three of the four properties listed by the Herald have been investigated following several complaints over the last two years and were found to contravene the District Plan in that they were business activities in residential zones which did not comply with home occupation controls," said Mark White, the council's central resource consenting and compliance manager.

He said abatement notices and infringement fines were issued to the operators, making them downscale the businesses to comply with the rules, and the enterprises would be monitored further to make sure they complied.

In most cases, brothels would need a resource consent to operate from residential premises.

A consent is not required if commercial sex was secondary to the main use of the property and did not "create any objectionable noise, smoke, smell or vibrations" or generate a significant increase in traffic.

Mr White said the four businesses had health protection licences issued under the council's bylaw to provide massage but would require a brothel licence if they were operating as brothels.

Albert-Eden Local Board chairman Dr Peter Haynes said the operation of brothels on residential streets in the board's area "has been of concern to most if not all board members".

Alice Chung, who owns and operates Alice Clinic on 52 Manukau Rd, denies having broken any rules or being a nuisance to neighbours.

"I work hard running a legitimate business and keep to the law. I don't see any reason why I should not be allowed to operate here," Ms Chung said in Mandarin.

A woman who answered the door at 132 Massage denied the clinic provided commercial sex despite the council confirming it was one of the properties that had been issued an abatement notice and fined for breaking home occupation rules.

- NZ Herald

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