By ANGELA GREGORY
Parts of Auckland are at risk of becoming "garage cities" as desperate families increasingly rent illegal accommodation to make ends meet, say some housing advocates.
Publicity over the case of an Auckland family who spent four years living in a squalid, rat-infested garage has highlighted the substandard conditions some Aucklanders will put up with to save money.
The Murphy family rented the Lincoln garage for $180 a week, despite cockroaches, holes in the walls, makeshift bathroom facilities and dodgy wiring.
Their landlords, Aik Guan Law and Kim Lan Lai, have been fined $40,500 for allowing the family of six to live in unacceptable conditions.
Many community groups contacted by the Herald yesterday were not surprised by the Murphys' story, and said they knew of similar situations.
Ian Godfrey, the Manukau City Council's technical officer, building, said he suspected cases such as the Murphys could just be the tip of the iceberg in South Auckland.
"In terms of the socio-economic groups from the Manukau area with extended families and houses not big enough ... they are making extra living space in garages."
Mr Godfrey said the council was investigating a case in Papatoetoe where members of an extended family were living in a garage.
"We are trying to work though the issues with the owners."
Because uninsulated garages were cold and damp in winter, people tried to keep them warm with burners and heaters, which put them at risk, he said. "Just two years ago we had a fatal fire in Otara where an extended family were living in a converted garage without a building permit."
Mr Godfrey said there seemed to be an acceptance of the substandard living conditions, and the council received few complaints.
"Another problem is that if they are forced out, where do they go?"
The manager of the Manurewa Peoples Centre, Rangi McLean, said he had been in contact recently with families living in garages.
One couple with three children had been living in a garage for 13 months while they waited for help from Housing New Zealand.
Mr McLean said the family did not want to talk about their situation, even without being identified, as they were terrified of being evicted.
"They don't want to risk it and they pay board to other family members so don't want to make trouble."
The supervisor of the Otara Citizens Advice Bureau, Lin Kaiou, said garage living was becoming a big thing in South Auckland.
"People are renting out garages with no facilities and living in lean-tos."
Mrs Kaiou said those most likely to live in such conditions were young Polynesian families and new immigrants who did not know what to expect.
In many cases Pacific Island families rented garages from members of their extended family and were reluctant to complain about the conditions to anyone in authority.
"Or sometimes they are too scared to cough because they are on a visitor's permit which may have expired."
Mrs Kaiou said it was not uncommon for people to come in complaining of poor rental accommodation.
Problems cited included faulty wiring, broken hot-water cylinders, leaking pipes, unhygienic bathrooms and dampness.
She had seen rotten carpets, mouldy walls and "disgusting" toilets.
Elaine Lolesio, manager of the Monte Cecilia House Trust, said she was not surprised by the story of the Murphy family, and had seen worse living conditions.
People living in apartment blocks built in the 1950s, in suburbs such as Kingsland and Mt Roskill, were coping with very bad conditions, she said.
If they complained, or asked to have things fixed, they were simply evicted.
She had seen sewage flowing down the walls of some of these blocks of flats from upstairs toilets.
Housing Minister Mark Gosche said Tenancy Services investigated about 300 complaints a year from tenants about property upkeep.
He said it was difficult to gauge how wide the problem of squalid housing was, although the number of people applying for state flats and houses was rising.
"That says there are a lot of people who need better housing at an affordable cost."