Loafers Lodge director Gregory Mein says the company was entitled to rely on experts to ensure the building, which is now the scene of a fatal fire, had robust standards.
Wellington City Council has confirmed the property was issued with a Building Warrant of Fitness in March. New Zealand’s standards for fire alarm and safety systems are required to be routinely inspected as part of this assessment.
Mein has also revealed the property was subject to a monthly inspection where its services were checked, including by fire technicians.
Police are treating the blaze as suspicious and have confirmed there was a couch fire at the building about 10.30pm on Monday night, prior to the second fatal fire which occurred about two hours later. The couch fire was not reported to emergency services at the time.
Mein said the Building Warrant of Fitness process was robust and he felt he should be able to rely on it.
“Everyone has a view which they’re entitled to. I can only speak generally - we are reliant on our fire technicians, who come through and test the building once a month; the Building Warrant of Fitness was done in March, which is a major audit of the whole building, and everything was up to standard.
“So all we can do is employ the relevant people to make sure that our standards are robust, and I feel we have done that.”
The lodge, built in the 1970s, did not have fire sprinklers and the Building Code does not require the retrofitting of them.
The fatal fire was a tragedy, Mein said.
“Everyone is just gutted by this, it’s just done us in completely.”
Mein said he has been supporting the building’s management, who have been assisting police and Fire and Emergency New Zealand with their investigations.
Others have been working closely with displaced residents, he said.
Loved ones of some of the residents who were living in the lodge have raised concerns about poor conditions there.
Mein said the management team looked after the day-to-day running of the lodge, so he was unable to comment on specific allegations.
“If you’ve got 90-odd people, there’s bound to be a couple of disgruntled ones in there and, as I said, we deal with a myriad of different people from different walks of life, who have different needs, and you know, one person might feel aggrieved, I don’t know.
“But they [did] have the right, of course, if they didn’t like it, to leave.
“We don’t keep anyone there who doesn’t want to be kept there. We try to assist them as much as we can.”
Wellington city missioner Murray Edridge – among those on the frontline offering support to survivors – has described the hostel as not the “most salubrious”.
“By definition, most of them [residents] had some vulnerabilities.”
“And that is why they were staying in that particular place. You wouldn’t stay there unless you had very few options.
“It wasn’t the most salubrious place you could stay, obviously.
“But it was still a community of people, and they were still housed.”