A stoush has broken out over a 106-year-old house as a group of people living in it try to prevent the demolition of what they believe should be a heritage-listed building.
But the property owner says the residents are squatters and the Hamilton house is not protected, not structurally sound, and not safe to inhabit.
It's thought the five-bedroom, ramshackle bungalow atop Memorial Drive in Hamilton East dates back to 1914, but a former resident believes the house was built in 1883 because of period features consistent with the time.
Last week Hamilton City Council prepared to issue a dangerous and unsanitary notice on the house because services such as water, sewage and electricity have been disconnected.
The process was halted when councillor Dave Macpherson asked for further investigation because of the house's potential historical value.
Macpherson said the land where the house sits was first surveyed as part of Hamilton East almost 150 years ago.
"While the earliest record found shows evidence of the house being at least 106 years old, circumstantial evidence points to it possibly being 25-30 years older."
Tim Folkema lived at the house as a Wintec music student and still spends some nights there, along with seven other residents and a dog called Jeff.
Folkema has researched architecture from the 1880s and believes the kauri timber floors and walls, sash windows, high ceilings, vents for gas lanterns and other features pinpoint construction to that era.
"We are going to be celebrating its 140th birthday in three years."
The colourfully decorated house is next to Hamilton East School, the oldest in the district, and for 40 years it has been a haven for unconventional lifestylers and bohemians.
Folkema and long-term resident Eden Heke, who has been returning to the house every winter for 17 years, said students, artists, musicians, filmmakers and politicians had been leaving their mark on the home for decades.
They say the McGillicuddy Serious Party wrote its satirical policies there.
A vine is growing through the walls and ceiling of one room. Posters, art, photographs and album covers plaster the walls and incense fill the air at the house, which Folkema says has attracted a community of like-minded people. Together they have salvaged a toilet, rigged up a hose to give running water to the kitchen sink, created an outside fire-heated bath for washing, and organised solar power to light each room.
In September last year, the only legitimate tenant was issued a 90-day notice to vacate.
The notice was extended by two weeks to January 6 and the tenant left, but the others stayed.
Tensions came to a head in February when owner Grant Griffiths had the services disconnected.
"He's trying to get the house condemned as unsanitary," Folkema said. "He himself removed water pipes, one sewage pipe on one toilet and had someone disconnect the electricity, knowing that we were there."
However, Griffiths, a developer who bought the $1.5 million house and flats as a rental investment in 2012, said the occupiers were not paying rent and were squatters.
Griffiths said he couldn't, therefore, complain to the Tenancy Tribunal but he had complained to the police.
"They are illegal occupants. The original tenancy was with nobody in that house. Those people are squatting."
Griffiths said the occupiers were living in a fantasy. "I'm the one paying the mortgage and rates."
He said the house was a fire hazard and structurally unsafe because of unpermitted alterations by residents over the years on foundations, load-bearing walls and fire exits.
Griffiths' lawyer Dylan Gould said his client had tried numerous times to get the occupants to leave the property. Gould said Griffiths had been advised by Hamilton City Council the property was "dangerous and unsanitary for occupation".
"Further to this, the owner is constantly receiving complaints from the neighbouring properties in the area regarding the vile and intimidatory behaviour of the unauthorised occupants to the extent that some neighbours have moved to get away from the area."
A petition on Change.org to save the house from demolition has attracted 3274 signatures.
The house was not on the council's District Plan schedule as a heritage building and was not listed with Heritage New Zealand, meaning Griffiths has the right to demolish it.
Council city growth general manager Jen Baird said the council made another site inspection on Friday and would decide what, if any, action to take next week.
The council had not received any request to disconnect services from the property.
However, Baird said a property owner was entitled to make alterations or disconnections to services within their property provided they complied with relevant legislation, in this case, the Building Act.
Heritage New Zealand lower northern area manager Ben Pick said the house was not heritage listed and the process for it to become one was involved and required nomination and verification of age by experts.
He advised the residents to co-operate with the owner in the demolition so the house's historic features could be recorded and provided to a library.