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Neighbour against neighbour

Many residents at Orange Grove did not want this written. They do not want the dirty laundry of the complex aired, and feel it will deflate the prices on their units, if or when they decide to sell. Others are adamant the story needs to be heard — that what has happened cannot be swept under the carpet. It all started two years ago and has everything to do with dirty laundry. Sophie Rishworth reports.

On July 1, 2018, power supply to a communal laundry shed at Orange Grove was switched off by the complex's manager.

It is one of two communal laundries on site but the only one that had the power cut off.

Manager Ian Summersby argues the use of the laundry and the power has been a nicety provided by him, and it is in his power to withdraw it because he owns the laundry shed.

Some of the 34 units do not have space for a washing machine because of their former use as motel units. Owners of those units use the communal laundry, and a weekly amount of around $4 is paid in utilities levies.

The power was cut off to the washing machines used by units 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 two years ago. Unit 6 owners, Jo and John von Pein, said for seven months those residents paid their levies but were unable to use the automatic washing machine.

“The use of the laundry is listed in our leases as part of our levies,” said Mr von Pein.

Bev and Wiremu Hauiti, owners of Unit 2, were battling Mr Hauiti's colon cancer and end-stage renal failure. To not have the use of a washing machine when Mr Hauiti was dealing with a colostomy bag, diarrhoea and bleed-outs left them exasperated.

Furthermore, Mr Summersby wrote in a letter that Mr Hauiti's health conditions were “a load of crap”.

Prior to the power being cut off, the Hauitis brought in their own washing machine and plugged it in in the laundry shed. Summersby agreed to this.

Mrs Hauiti said having their own machine was to ensure there was no cross-contamination for other residents as the washing they were having to do was messy.

They bought their unit in 2014 as their Gisborne base for Mr Hauiti's medical appointments, as home was Tolaga Bay and they were driving to Gisborne three times a week for dialysis. Until the power outage in 2018, they had no problems with Mr Summersby, said Mrs Hauiti. But after the laundry lockout, tensions reached boiling point.

One night the Hauitis arrived back from Tolaga Bay and found their own washing machine outside in the pouring rain.

A confrontation between Mr Hauiti and Mr Summersby ended with the contents of the colostomy bag thrown through his car window on to him.

Mr Summersby said Mrs Hauiti and Mrs von Pein both laughed. They deny this.

Mr Hauiti was charged with assualt.

Other residents had keys to the other communal laundry but were forbidden to share them with owners of units 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7.

One night Mrs Hauiti saw the laundry door left open and whipped in to do a load. As a result, Mr Summersby changed the locks and sent an intimidating letter, and the bill for the lock change, to the resident he thought had lent Mrs Hauiti the key.

“Backing your so-called ‘friends' has just caused you the loss of the use of the laundry and cost you money that I am sure they won't compensate for you,” Mr Summersby wrote to them.

It was not until lawyers got involved and a mediation session took place that Mr Summersby switched the power back on. But with it came a $4 charge per wash as he made the machines coin-operated.

He also hard-wired a plug so it could not be used by Mrs Hauiti to plug in her personal washing machine, despite the fact the use of the communal laundry facility is stated in the lease.

THE PROBLEM

The complex is divided between those who support manager Mr Summersby and those who have grievances with his approach and management.

Mr Summersby and his wife are the two shareholders of Summersby Holdings Ltd. It was this company that sold the units on a cross lease. Some units still owned by Mr and Mrs Summersby are rented out.

A cross-lease situation means buyers have ownership for 999 years, and own a 1/34 share of the land. If an owner sells their unit, they get any increase in market value, and they can on-sell it to whoever they want.

There has never been a body corporate for Orange Grove. Mr Summersby is the manager, a position he has held since Summersby Holdings Ltd took ownership of Orange Grove in 2002.

Some residents feel Mr Summersby is getting away with intimidating behaviour towards those who ask questions about the monthly levies, or raise any issues. They feel he is mismanaging the complex but have nowhere to go for help, leaving them frustrated.

They have tried lawyers, accountants, advocacy groups, the police, and sat down for hours with Age Concern. Still, “Mr Summersby will not honour the signed agreement and release the books for audit,” said one resident.

“He was not happy about me asking a question. He gets angry, he just puts down the phone. He is not nice. We’ve been trying to sort this out for a number of years, but we’re not getting anywhere with him.”

Mr Summersby said “It is nobody’s business” when asked by The Gisborne Herald why the accounts had not been audited as per the mediation agreement.

He does have supporters in the village who say if you treat him with respect, he will do the same.

“Coming at him aggressively only makes him defensive,” they say.

THE MEDIATION

In February 2019, Mr Summersby sat down with some residents led by Mr von Pein. Mediator John Hardie said he made sure both parties signed a piece of paper to take out of the mediation with them. This would be the basis from which they could move forward.

His cost of $7500 plus GST was split between both parties, he said.

The first point on the mediation agreement was that past issues between owners of Unit 2 and Mr Summersby would be settled.

Point two, power should be reinstated to one of the laundry rooms, and the cost of the power would be added to the annual levy.

The third and final point was for an independent person (accountant) to audit the annual levy paid by unit owners. The cost of this was to either be included in the annual levy, or taken from the communal village fund.

Only one point appears to have been adhered to, with counter claims on why the agreement has not been in place. The power was switched back on but the machines were made coin-operated. It has turned into a personal feud that has got out of hand.

THE WEEKLY LEVIES

There are variations on what each unit pays — some have their own power accounts while others pay their rates direct to the council. The full monthly levy increased $31.22 this month to $739.57 (or $170.67 a week). The new levy includes administration costs of $42.13 per unit a week, which, over the 32 individually-owned units comes to $70,104.32 a year, which is paid to Mr Summersby.

Levies include insurance, rates, rubbish, gardening, power, utilities and a $6 weekly contribution to a “Village Fund”.

Mr von Pein said he wanted transparency and honesty with what Mr Summersby was doing with the communal fund. The audit agreed to in the mediation would show the charges aligned with the cost. Some say they are fine with the increase. Some aren’t.

UNHAPPY

John and Jo von Pein moved into Orange Grove in 2016. Mr von Pein believes Mr Summersby, as the complex manager, owes a fiduciary duty of care to all residents. A fiduciary duty means a person in authority is bound ethically to act in the others’ best interests.

Mrs Hauiti says she has been the target of rude gestures, racial slurs and been called an animal by Mr Summersby — verbally and in writing.

Other residents say they are too scared to leave their units; one resident does her washing by hand instead of paying the $4 laundry charge.

The only support they have had is from Age Concern, they say — otherwise it seems the complaints either fall on deaf ears or no one wants to touch the tricky situation.

A couple who have lived there for six years said they were verbally abused by Mr Summersby and had to get a lawyer after he threatened to kick them out.

A resident of 18 months who asked for explanations on the levies being charged, said Mr Summersby went to their home. Instead of providing an explanation, he refused to give any information — saying the electricity bill and the insurance bill were in his name, and it was a privacy issue.

“I felt both of these excuses were not valid. I asked a few questions about the budget and Ian got agitated, pointing his finger at me in an aggressive manner — telling me I had no rights, that he did not have to answer me, that it was his business.”

The resident said they felt rattled and found him “menacing”.

“I reminded him that we do have rights, we are part-owners of Orange Grove and he is a part-owner like all of us.”

Since then the resident said Mr Summersby would drive slowly past her home and look in.

“I have also noticed that on occasions when I get a visitor, either Ian or one of his colleagues walks or drives past and takes a licence plate number.”

Another resident of two years said they heard the rumours when they moved in but “took them with a pinch of salt”.

“But I have witnessed his arrogant, bullying tactics. We are trying to do something about it but keep hitting a brick wall. We can’t get a straight answer from him. You get bullied. He is not professional.”

Another unit owner described management as, “an absolute bloody nightmare”.

“It’s sad, because it is a lovely bunch of people here who want to get on with their lives.

“It is pettiness that has got out of control,” they said.

A resident of 14 years said the situation had got worse and worse.

“The three basic skills to run a complex like this — respect, honesty and proper communication — he just hasn’t got, full stop. He promises things and doesn’t act on them.”

More than one resident said they had been waiting years for maintenance on the outside of their units, which was covered in the lease and the levies.

“Residents he doesn’t like . . . he will stop and give them a fingers sign or verbally abuse them — it is unbelievable. It got so bad it went to mediation.”

There was also an issue with residents who wanted to pay their rates directly to the council rather than through the weekly levy system. A few years ago it was offered to all residents and some took it up. But in recent years, when others decided they wanted to do the same, Mr Summersby told them that would be in breach of their lease.

Other harassment included things that were under the radar enough not to complain about but still gave an air of being watched around the complex.

“If he saw a couple of people having a cup of tea at a table, he would take a photo of them. It got so bad he even took a photo of a resident washing his car during the day.

“But the main thing I am worried about is the way he treats elderly people. I have seen it with my own eyes. He had one elderly person so scared that she wouldn’t open the door if someone knocked. A lot of the time it was neighbours checking up on her.

“To be quite honest it was terrible. I have had a couple of days where the tears were rolling down my cheeks, and I wouldn’t be the only one. Respect means nothing to him. We’ve been fighting and every organisation we have gone to agrees something needs to be done, but nothing gets done.

“Age Concern has been the only one who has stood by us and supported us since day one.”

One unit owner of 10 years said Mr Summersby had left her and others depressed.

“We can’t leave our homes. There have been a whole lot of things — swearing, calling us names, horrible letters. He makes me feel uneasy and I don’t trust him. Someone needs to do something because we have had enough. He is very nasty and cruel.”

HAPPY

Those happy with Mr Summersby’s management say they are also being bullied with malicious mail and verbal abuse.

There have been two letters — one sent in May and one in June — which were only received by those in support of Mr Summersby. They were anonymous, postmarked and included photocopied excerpts from The Gisborne Herald’s court news over the past 10 years.

Written on a sticky note attached to the pieces of paper were the words, “Felons Flock together”.

One resident, who featured in one of the pieces of court news, said it related to something she had done 10 years ago.

Another article was about a resident’s daughter who also had a brush with the law.

There was also an excerpt from the court news in 2015 about Mr Summersby, who was convicted of possessing a firearm while being unfit to control it.

“It’s very upsetting,” said one of the residents who received the anonymous mail.

“The in-complex feuding is pitting neighbour against neighbour,” said another. “It is not our problem but it is affecting us.”

Another resident of around four years said it was also quite frightening. And because they did not have any concerns with Mr Summersby they said: “Don’t involve us”.

“We do feel communication could be better but, on the whole, the owner of the complex is a businessman and is entitled to run a business and make a profit.”

The cross-lease situation meant they were all owners who shared a portion of the property. It was a bit of a grey area as to what happened if you were not happy with management in this situation.

What was clear was how intolerable the situation had become for everyone, said another resident.

“While this is going on, I feel exposed to a dangerous situation. We are desperate. We would like to have OK behaviour here — respect, justice and kindness, and a way to be efficient over the community issues when there is a disagreement.”

Another resident felt they were being dragged into a domestic dispute that was petty.

“I am absolutely sick of it,” she said.

A unit-owner of 13 years said they were happy with the way things were being run.

Another said they felt every problem the complex had was solvable, and they did not have any concerns about the finances.

But they all felt it was a stalemate.

“It’s a village, we have to work together. I get on perfectly well with Ian. If I have asked him to do something, he goes ahead and does it. The ones causing the trouble are those who are disrespectful to him.

“We have always treated him right and have no problems.

“There’s always two sides. I have been accused of being a big mouth, and then the letters came. It takes away from this lovely village.”

Residents of seven years also say they have no problems with Mr Summersby.

“We love it here — a lot of us in the village do, but there are a group of people causing trouble.”

NEW COMMITTEE

This week a committee for the unit owners has transformed, with all new members and a desire to resolve the issues.

Residents: (back from left) Harold Bright, Wendy Baty, Bev Hauiti, Graeme Main, Age Concern trust board president Kath Allen, John von Pein; (front) Carol Hood, Sylvia Taggart, and Jo von Pein with Max, the dog. Picture by Liam Clayton
A dispute that has got out of hand at Orange Grove has left a group of residents feeling bullied by the complex's manager.

  1. Kayleigh says:

    Great that a new committee has been set up, I hope they can resolve these issues. They are human rights issues.

  2. Dave says:

    Good luck to the committee, let us hope they sort out these issues and any future issues.