It was called a lodge of last resort: a boarding house which was so run down that it once made national headlines and shamed the government into action.
Oceanic Lodge in Favona is among a cluster of privately-owned boarding houses occupying the old wards of the Māngere Psychopaedic Hospital, which closed in 1994. They were originally home to working-class single men who worked in factories nearby.
Media reports on the "squalid", cramped boarding houses 15 years ago influenced minimum standards and greater scrutiny of the sector. Some of the lodges in Māngere were now homely, warm places where beneficiaries or working poor lived while waiting for a state house.
But the nature of boarding houses - cheaper, more tolerant, taking all-comers - mean they will always attract high-risk people, often on probation or struggling with addiction. And housing advocates said that despite repeated efforts to clean up the sector, the properties sometimes fell through the cracks of housing regulation.
"They are the worst of the worst," said Monte Cecilia Housing Trust's Bernie Smith, whose organisation provides transitional housing for low-income families in South Auckland.
"There is a certain cohort that would feel comfortable living in a boarding house. But predominantly, it offers no security, no sense of long-term tenure, and weekends are party time."
A 49 year-old man, who has not been identified, died at the Oceanic Lodge after an alleged attack around 4am on Sunday morning. A former tenant said the victim was more likely to break up a fight than start one. A 37 year-old man has been charged with assault.
Last year, police responded to a stabbing incident at the same boarding house. And in 2017, a baby who was born at the lodge died a few days later.
A company called P&I Homes bought the lodge for $2 million in 2016. One of the directors, Irwin Zhao, said he could not answer Herald questions about the violent events or the property's condition and hung up.
When the Herald visited this week the boarding house was shabby in places but not derelict. The large lawn which surrounds the single-storey, concrete-block building was neatly mowed.
Some window frames were rotted through and water pooled at the front entrance. One bedroom inside the boarding house appeared to have no door and was covered by a lavalava. A couple of children played in the common area. One tenant, making a sandwich in the hallway, cheerfully said it was a good place to live. There were no signs that a man had died there days ago.
In 2008, a Listener article said families with preschool children were living in cold, damp rooms the size of a jail cell at Abiru Lodge, as Oceanic Lodge was previously known. There was one functioning toilet for 30 people. Among its tenants were Housing NZ referrals, who spent all but a few dollars of their benefit on the $200-a-week rooms.
The Listener expose embarrassed the former Labour government, who called an urgent summit and made some immediate changes, including an end to Housing NZ referrals and the removal of children from the worst boarding houses.
Since then there have been a series of reforms and further inquiries. Owners of boarding houses now have similar responsibilities as landlords, their buildings have minimum standards, and penalties are tougher for breaches.
The Ministry of Social Development said this week it had previously used the lodge for emergency accommodation, but not since 2019. It did not inspect properties used for this purpose, but relied on standards imposed by councils and others.
Auckland Council said this week that the Oceanic Lodge's paperwork was in order. It had consent to operate as a boarding house and had an up-to-date building warrant of fitness.
An inspection in 2017 found the property complied with its consent. But there were two complaints in 2017 and 2018 relating rubbish bins and a faulty smoke alarm - both of which were addressed.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's tenancy compliance team said that spot checks had dropped off during the Covid-19 pandemic. Previous checks in 2018 and 2020 had found breaches of tenancy laws, though they could not be revealed for privacy reasons.
MBIE said inspections were now being carried out again, and it planned to investigate the Oceanic Lodge in response to the man's death on the weekend.
St Vincent de Paul building financial capacity manager Alanah Baker said boarding houses were usually given advance notice of checks by council officials and were able to paper over the cracks by the time they arrived.
"They give people time to clean up their act before the council comes," she said.
Monitoring of the houses was patchy, Baker added. Last month, she dropped off a food parcel at a boarding house and found the recipient was living in a two-door wardrobe with just enough room for a single mattress and a chair.
The properties could also be lucrative businesses, she said. Owners charged up to $350 a week for small rooms - around $110,000 in income for the smallest boarding houses. Larger ones made $300,000 or more a year.
"Owners are making a very good living," Baker said. "But the tenants - they are the last, the least, and the lost."