An Arthurs Point woman "took a risk with other people's lives" by using two illegal shipping containers for visitor accommodation, a judge says.

In the first prosecution of its kind in the Queenstown Lakes District, Lisa Karen Kalazich (49) was fined $12,000 at her sentencing by Judge John Hassan in the Environment Court in Queenstown yesterday.

The court heard how Kalazich had the containers placed on her property at 28 McMillan Rd and converted them for residential use some time before 2017.

The containers, as well as three unconsented residential units in the property's main dwelling, were listed on AirBnB and Bookabach until the middle of last year, when a second complaint from a member of the public prompted a council officer to visit the site.

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Judge Hassan told Kalazich her offending had a "high degree of recklessness".

By placing the containers in a "relatively perilous position above the Shotover River" without approved foundations, she had exposed their occupants to the risk of injury or death.

Nor had the containers' plumbing and drainage been checked, therefore exposing occupants to a potential serious health risk.

"In short, you took a risk with other people's lives."

The offending was deliberate, had an intention of commercial gain, and ignorance of the law was not an excuse, he said.

The contractor who placed the containers on the property had told her she needed building and resource consents.

"It's widely understood by people that significant building work needs a building consent."

The court heard how a Queenstown Lakes District Council enforcement officer emailed Kalazich in January 2017 after the first complaint.

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During subsequent correspondence over the next few months, she told the officer the containers were being used as a sleepout and for storage, and that she intended moving them to Riverton.

No site visit or enforcement action was taken, but in May last year the council received a second complaint, this time with a link to Kalazich's listing for the containers on an accommodation booking website.

A site visit resulted in her being issued a Notice to Fix to address a series of building code breaches.

In July last year the council became aware the defendant had converted the property's main dwelling into three separate residential units without a building consent, and was advertising them on the AirBnB website.

Although she obtained a retrospective resource consent for the containers to be on the property in December, the notice to fix had not been complied with by yesterday's sentencing.

Council legal manager Alice Balme said it was clear from Kalazich's engagement with the council in 2017 she was aware a consent was needed for the building work she had undertaken.

Kalazich's counsel, Michael Walker, said she had worked closely with the council for the past eight or nine months on resolving the consent issues, but had got "different messages from different departments".

"She's doing everything in her power to reach compliance with the council, and she's almost there."

The offending was the result of ignorance of the law, not "flagrant disregard" of it, Mr Walker said.

Kalazich had estimated she had spent $50,000 on the visitor accommodation venture, and had not recouped that from earnings.

"This exercise has not been a profitable one for my client."

Kalazich was convicted on two charges, one under the Resource Management Act of illegally having the containers on her property at 28 McMillan Rd, and one under the Building Act of converting the containers into residential units without a consent.

Judge Hassan said he took account of Kalazich's lack of criminal history and early guilty plea in calculating the total fine amount.

QLDC regulatory manager Anthony Hall welcomed the sentencing and said the council took these matters "very seriously".

It was pursuing enforcement action on a number of instances of unlawful building work in the district.

"On this occasion, the defendant acted without regard to council rules and associated legislation, resulting in the potential for significant safety issues," he said.

"It's important to remind anyone out there looking to undertake building works to make sure they have all the necessary consents in place before starting any project," Mr Hall said.