A Christchurch property manager who was accused of misconduct after his tenant was crushed to death in the February 2011 quake has avoided charges.
Licensed Harcourts real estate agent Christopher Chapman appeared before the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal in November and December last year. A report on the tribunal's decision was released this morning.
Chapman was accused of serious negligence and disgraceful conduct amid claims he failed to inform a commercial building's tenants the property had been deemed structurally unsafe by engineers, after it was weakened by the September 2010 earthquake.
Apprentice tattooist Matthew McEachen, 25, was subsequently killed by falling masonry while trying to flee the Southern Ink Tattoo Studio in Colombo St during the February 22 earthquake.
The charge was laid in the aftermath of the earthquakes, following a complaint by McEachen's father, Bruce McEachen.
The Complaints Assessment Committee alleged that Chapman failed to comply with relevant industry standards as to disclose to tenants information regarding the safety of a property for occupation.
The tribunal decision said an engineering firm had inspected the building after the September 2010 earthquake and provided a report stating it was "structurally unsafe to occupy".
Southern Ink owner Matt Parkin had repeatedly emailed Chapman about safety concerns, saying he was nervous bringing clients in and asking how safe they were.
An email response from Chapman said it might be some time before the building could be legally tenanted, but the email "did not refer to the premises as being structurally unsafe to occupy or to the concerns about the external walls".
It was argued that the tattoo studio was able to remain in the building because Christchurch City Council gave the shop a green sticker. Evidence of when this green sticker was replaced with a yellow sticker was disputed.
It argued that Chapman was given marked-up plans for the building on February 11, 2001, which showed repair work was required on the rear wall of the Southern Ink premises before resumption of occupancy.
The building was then totally destroyed when it collapsed in the earthquake a week and a half later.
The charge against Chapman alleged that he needed to take further steps to clarify whether the building was safe for occupation and to pass on to the tenants the reports, emails or other correspondence that contained information relevant to the safety of the building.
The tribunal found Chapman failed to meet industry standards in both respects and that his failure to pass on information or seek clarification from engineers put the owners of Southern Ink, its employees and it customers at risk.
While Chapman failed to meet these standards, the tribunal determined that it did not constitute disgraceful conduct.
"Mr Chapman's conduct in not enquiring into, or seeking clarification of, the information he was given by HCG then passing that information on to Southern Ink, and by not addressing, himself, the questions whether the Southern Ink premises were safe for occupation, did not meet the relevant industry standards by a considerable measure," the report said.
"However, we are not able to conclude that his failure to meet those standards was to such an extent that we could find that it would reasonably be considered by agents of good standing, or reasonable members of the public, as disgraceful.
"The tribunal does not find the charge of disgraceful conduct proved."
The report concluded that nothing the tribunal said in its decision was an indication that the tribunal has any view as to the culpability for Mr McEachen's death.
"The tribunal does not (and cannot) have such view," it said.
Bruce McEachen told Newstalk ZB that the family was "distraught" and "absolutely gobsmacked" over the decision.
"The sheer weight of evidence presented at the Real Estate Agents Tribunal is huge and to find the decision has gone the other way, I am sort of lost for words," he said.
"185 people died in the Christchurch earthquake and this is the only case that has got even close to going to court. To find nobody is being held accountable is just devastating."
McEachen said the tribunal's rationale was it had to be disgraceful conduct, "and basically they have said it is not disgraceful enough".
He said the decision was difficult to comprehend.
"When you think about it, if the guy had sold a house that had been sold as five bedrooms and it was actually four, then he would have been fined with disgraceful conduct.
"But here is a guy that had all the information from structural engineers that the building was unsafe to occupy, and continually the tenants were asking if the building was safe for them to be inside ... and they can't find anything wrong with that."
McEachen said the family needed time to look into their right to appeal the decision.
"It has been seven years and it is really tiring and we need to decide if we have enough strength to go through an appeal process, should we want to appeal it."