Queenstown Hill is home to some of the Wakatipu’s swankiest pads – try telling that to 21 people crammed into No.8 Malaghan Street.
The cold and musty eight-bedroom property is a boarding house for some overseas visitors who say it’s their only accommodation option – aside from hostels – during the height of winter when flats are scarce. Paying between $110-$120 each a week – plus firewood and power – young boarders from England, Brazil, France, Ireland, Scotland and China share poky bedrooms, three bathrooms, a tiny common room and kitchen space.
Rules are everywhere – signs remind tenants that showers can’t last any more than five minutes and a “noise curfew” kicks in at 10pm.
Former roommates Gina Cooper and Jo Illingworth believe the house is “giving Queenstown a bad name”.
However, the manager Leigh Braden – an Australian who lives across the road – says she’s not breaking any laws.
Cooper says: “In my bedroom there were three girls sharing literally like sardines.”
“The kitchen floor is always sticky and grimy, the bins are overflowing. We even found a cockroach in the fridge.
“It was an absolute nightmare,” Cooper claims.
Illingworth says each tenant is given “one plate, one spoon, one everything with our initials, and if it’s left out and not washed [Braden] throws it away”.
The 19-year-old British women, who claim they were evicted “unreasonably” last month, allege Braden let herself into locked tenants’ rooms without permission – including unintentionally walking in on one tenant having sex – during their seven weeks’ stay.
They also allege Braden often asked for rent money to be left under their pillows despite their offers to drop cash to her next door when they couldn’t deposit it into her bank account.
Asked about Illingworth and Cooper’s allegation that she went into tenants’ rooms to “snoop around”, Braden flatly denied doing that.
“No that is against the law and I do not operate like that,” she says.
Braden claims it’s the tenants who ask if it’s okay for them to leave rent under their pillows.
“I give them bank account details and I prefer they pay it directly into my bank account,” she says.
Cooper says she was given 48 hours’ notice to leave for smoking inside the house, but denies lighting up.
A text message sent from Braden’s mobile phone to Cooper, sighted by Mountain Scene, says: “…Because u r a trouble maker n hav broken th rule of smoking in th hous [i] hereby giv u 48hrs notice 2 vacate. If u fail 2 comply I wil cal th polic n hav u removed n chargd as a trespaser [sic].”
Cooper has laid a lengthy complaint to the police – sighted by Mountain Scene – detailing numerous allegations during her stay, which ended on July 15.
Illingworth claims she was booted out because her rent was a day late.
Braden refuses to comment on the rest of the girls’ allegations – some of which weren’t able to be put to her because she hung up twice.
“I operate within the law, the way that boarding houses are run and that’s all I’ve got to say. Thank you very much for your call,” she said.
Boarding houses currently don’t fall under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 – but amended laws passed in Parliament late last month mean they’ll be covered from October 1.
Under new legislation, boarding house landlords will be required to give 28 days’ notice to end a tenancy and the Tenancy Tribunal will also be able to order landlords to carry out necessary repairs or maintenance.
The Department of Building and Housing won’t comment on the situation.
Mountain Scene asked Braden for the number of the house’s owner and she said she didn’t have it.
The property has a capital valuation of $1.45 million.