Wellington Scoop

Undiscovered death of 88-year-old: get to know your neighbours, says mayor

The DomPost today uses a banner headline to report that an 88-year-old tenant had been dead in his council flat for more than a year before his body was found. The man had lived in a small Newtown bedsit for 30 years, and his rent and power and pension were being paid by automatic payment. The council, which says it’s supposed to check on tenants at least once a year, has issued a media release about the circumstances of the discovery.

Media release from the Wellington City Council
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says she is very sad at the death of an elderly Council tenant, whose body lay undiscovered possibly for more than a year.

“It serves as a reminder that we should all think about our neighbours’ welfare. Getting to know your neighbours – even if it just means knowing their name and saying hello – is an important way of keeping our community connected and strong.”

Mayor Wade-Brown says it appeared the tenant kept to himself and was an extremely private man who appeared to have no close family. “Physical isolation appears to be something that’s more prevalent across society in this day and age.

“While we’re still trying to ascertain all the facts about this incident, I think it’s an appropriate time for us all to think about how we keep in touch with family and friends.”

Mayor Wade-Brown says she has asked for an update on the Council’s processes for contacting tenants. “I’m also open to suggestions from agencies such as Age Concern. That being said, I have great confidence in the work of the Council’s Housing staff.”

The Council’s Social Portfolio Leader, Councillor Stephanie Cook, says the Council has hundreds of elderly and solo tenants and that undiscovered deaths do unfortunately occur from time to time. “The Council’s Housing staff do try to keep tabs on all tenants to make sure they’re OK – but many of our tenants like their privacy and don’t like intrusion into their lives.”

Council staff discovered the tenant’s body last week after knocking on his door several times in the past few weeks as part of the upgrade of the Newtown Park Flats – part of the Council’s $400 million housing upgrade programme currently under way.

Cr Cook says the staff left several calling cards at the unit. “When it became obvious the cards had not been collected, they feared the worst and entered the flat with Police.”

Cr Cook says the Council has various procedures that require staff to knock on doors and visit tenants at least once a year. These include checks on maintenance and fire alarms. “We’re checking to see what has happened – or possibly not happened – that has allowed this sad situation to occur.”

“It obviously appears that the tenant’s rent payments and power bill continued to be automatically paid for a number of months – so there was little to suggest something had gone wrong.”

The Council has recently established a tenant support role within the Housing Unit especially to liaise with and look after elderly tenants. Housing staff also promote the ‘Caring Caller’ service to solo tenants.

The Council’s City Housing Services Manager, Vicki McLaren, says the community action programme established as part of the housing upgrade programme has an emphasis on “increasing community cohesion and neighbourliness” on the Council’s 40 housing sites.