Apartment owner’s complaint amounts to a further erosion of the right to discriminate

Alan Witcombe may well be a decent bloke, in most other respects.

But Alf is glad he is not a neighbour, because this Witcombe feller seems apt to treat the peace and quiet of a neighbourhood with a cavalier disrespect.

Why so?

Well, he is kicking up a hullabaloo about a ban on brats and sprats which he wishes to over-ride.

Because he couldn’t over-ride the rules, he has complained to the bloody Human Rights Commission to have them over-ridden.

He is raising questions about the strengths of body corporates and the rights of parents and their dependent children.

And he has complained to the commission on the grounds of discrimination against family status.

Witcombe – according to the report at Stuff which alerted Alf to this nonsense – has owned a two-bedroom apartment in the Embassy Court complex in the Wellington suburb of Mt Victoria since 1998.

He is now embroiled in a spat with the body corporate and is challenging its very sensible rules.

The spat arose just before Christmas after Mr Witcombe wrote to the body corporate advising that a friend and his young family were interested in moving into the apartment and were keen to meet the board’s directors.

The friend, his partner and their two children, aged three months and 18 months, wanted to stay in the Brougham St apartment only while looking for a place.

The body corporate’s chairwoman responded that the building had a limit of two occupants per apartment, so the board would be unable to approve the family.

Alf herewith declares his position: he is on the side of the body corporate on this one.

He is willing to kiss lots of babies at election time to muster votes. But he would prefer each baby, and any young brothers and sisters, live next door to somebody else.

The Stuff report does not make clear when the limit of two occupants per aparment was established.

But he suspects it was a condition when Witcome bought his apartment.

Witcome has gone to the Human Rights Commission despite receiving a polite letter from the head of the body corporate.

“Your friends sound like very responsible people, but if we make an exception for them we would have to accept groups of up to four in all of the tenanted apartments and, because of the [Human Rights Act], that would have to include groups of four adults,” she wrote. “This would quickly result in severe overcrowding of the building.”

Uh, oh.

The next bit of the story suggests Witcome has already stuck the thin edge of a wedge into the corporate body rules.

Mr Witcombe previously let the apartment to other families who subsequently had children, but the chairwoman said those cases were different because the tenants had no children when they moved in.

“We cannot discriminate between adults and children, which is why we cannot say that it is OK to have a group of four when two of them are children but not when they are adults.”

Fair to say, this seems to be the sort of place which a young family would find attractive (although the young family would make it less attractive to Alf if he leaved next door).

Witcome lived in it for a few years but now lives elsewhere in Wellington.

Occasionally he lets the apartment to friends.

So what’s the essence of his official complaint?

Witcome is saying he thinks it’s contrary to the Human Rights Act to have a rule that allowed the board to “discriminate against children and families”.

“It’s an interesting issue – how far can body corporates go with controlling the lives of those they serve?”

The rule applied only to those letting apartments and not to owner-occupiers, he said.

“It seems crazy that a clearly discriminatory rule, and in my view illegal and unconstitutional rule … can be used to stop a family living in an appropriate rental property.”

Human Rights Commission mediator Pele Walker said in an email responding to Mr Witcombe’s complaint that there appeared to be grounds for discrimination.

The rule that no more than two adults can occupy one apartment would not override the unlawful discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act, he pointed out.

And a human rights lawyer, Tony Ellis, is saying body corporates are not above the law.

He agrees with the Human Rights Commission that the rule is discriminatory, and the body corporate is bound, like everyone, by the laws of the land.

No doubt he is right in counselling that any form of discrimination is unlawful.

But that only means the law is wrong.

We should all be allowed to discriminate.

Alf has a long list of people he would prefer to avoid at the best of times.

Certainly he would not want them as neighbours.

The list includes pinkos and greenies, but he would make an exemption for Robert Guyton, who sounds like a fun feller (this assumes he does not serve home-made parsnip wine or some such to his visitors).

UPDATE: As we can see from a comment below, the rule against which Whitcombe is battling is much more recent than Alf suspected. This tips considerations somewhat in Witcombe’s favour, although one question now worth asking is how come the rule was introduced and how many affected property owners voted in favour, if they were given the privilege of a vote.

One Response to Apartment owner’s complaint amounts to a further erosion of the right to discriminate

  1. Alan says:

    The rule came into force in 2006. The flat next door has two lovely children.

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