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Fighting for a home: A six-year struggle

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for a disabled woman and her family who feared they would be living in tents after being served an eviction notice.

Kirsty Searle, who uses a wheelchair, suffered a traumatic brain injury 20 years ago.
In 2016, she, her partner and fulltime carer Robert Lendrum, and their three children moved into a modified house in Solway.
However, the family maintains that ACC and landlord Trust House failed to meet Searle’s care requirements and that the house provided was never fit for the modifications she needed.
The result has been a breakdown in the relationship with Trust House, leading to a Tenancy Tribunal hearing in 2021.
But in a surprise turn of events, the parties reached an agreement yesterday, and a purpose-built accessible home in Masterton is destined for the family.
In the interim, temporary accommodation was being organised at a property in Carterton.
With eviction looming, Lendrum said that the developments were welcome news.
“I’m still really stunned, and we’re pretty happy about the house.”
However, he said he would not be fully relaxed until the key was in hand for the new temporary accommodation.
He said the landlord still had to approve temporary modifications to the property and allow for the family’s dog.
The Wairarapa Times-Age understands that Kainga Ora has played a role in securing the new accommodation.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said he had been working alongside the family and relevant organisations for some time to find a solution.
“At this stage, there are some delicate negotiations underway so I am very limited in my capacity to comment.
“I will continue to work with the family and advocate for them as they share their experience and am hopeful for a good outcome.”
Lendrum and Searle said the agreement has come after a six-year-long battle to have problems with their home fixed.
Faced with an eviction notice, the family had to find accommodation that would fit Searle’s needs.
Given the lack of rentals in Wairarapa, the task proved difficult.
Lendrum said there were issues with the house from day one, including doorways and halls not being wide enough for a wheelchair, a handrail in the toilet being placed on Searle’s paralysed side, and sloped floors that ran water across the house.
He said the poor living conditions had resulted in declining health.
“ACC’s recommendation was wheelchair accessible flooring, Trust House put in cheap floor from China,” he said.
“Things like this [holes in the flooring] have catapulted Kirsty into the hospital twice. She’s broken her eye socket, she’s severely bruised her right arm and her back.”
Trust House chief executive Charles Kaka said the organisation did not have alternative rental properties available suitable for the family.
“In order for us to carry out the necessary work on the house, the property needs to be vacated.
“Accommodation at the Copthorne Hotel equipped with a fully accessible toilet and shower facilities was provided to Robert and Kirsty. This would have enabled us to carry out the necessary work, but they declined.”
ACC deputy chief executive for service delivery Amanda Malu said ACC had apologised.
“We acknowledge the delays Robert and Kirsty have experienced in having modifications made to their home and understand their frustration.
“We have apologised to them for the length of time it has taken to resolve these issues.”
Malu said housing modifications in 2016 were completed by ACC provider Enable NZ before the family moved into the property.
“These were given a code of compliance certificate and signed off by the local authority – the Masterton District Council.
“However, concerns were later raised by Kirsty and Robert about some of these modifications – especially those relating to the shower floor.”
Malu said these had been the subject of various assessments by ACC and other building assessors.
“A scope of work was recently approved by ACC, in agreement with Kirsty and Robert, that addresses injury-related issues. Trust House agreed to attend to other issues that are property owner-related.
“Unfortunately, this work was unable to begin because the property’s landlord, Trust House, required the work to be completed at the same time as separate work it has been ordered to undertake by the Tenancy Tribunal.”

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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