Auckland developer Kerry Knight denies harassing elderly couple who refuse to sell home

An elderly couple claim they’ve been bullied, harassed and slapped with trespass notices by a wealthy property developer because they refuse to make way for his luxury apartment complex.

But Equinox Group director Kerry Knight denies being a bully and claims if anyone is the victim of harassment it’s him.

“I don’t think it’s harassment at all. I think it’s me trying to get him to stop harassing us.”

Knight – whose website says the 700-apartment development would be “the piece de resistance of his career” – has spent millions planning the project on a swathe of waterfront land next to Ōrākei train station.

However, Owen and Jane Hayward’s 23-year-old leasehold home sits smack bang in the middle of the site and construction is yet to begin.

They believe their 934sq m leasehold property would unlock Knight’s proposed master development, allowing the multimillion-dollar housing project to proceed.

Over the years the couple have fielded various offers from Knight and his associates to purchase their home.

But they’ve refused every offer and say the relationship has progressively soured.

They say the property is their home till the lease runs out in 2034 and at their advanced ages they have no intention of selling up.

“Where would we go?”

In recent years Knight’s company has slapped the pensioners with two trespass notices, banning the 84 and 79-year-old from their neighbouring Ōrākei Village shops.

Though the notices warn the couple could be fined or thrown in jail, they’ve ignored the orders on police advice and continue to visit their favourite grocer, café and plant centre.

Knight told the Herald on Sunday he believed the trespass notices were necessary to prevent Owen entering Knight’s properties, then contacting enforcement agencies with spurious complaints.

He claimed Owen “rang every agency he could – fire, asbestos. They’d come down to investigate and waste our time.”

The Haywards also claim Knight has shouted at them, ripped up their shared driveway, written aggressive emails and threatened them with repeated legal action as part of a festering 14-year dispute.

In an email to Knight after an altercation in 2018, Owen wrote: “Kerry for goodness sake… Stop your aggression and continuing unpleasantness as I cannot see any point.”

Knight responded: “Owen no one in our office wants anything to do with you… We are over trying to work you out.”

In correspondence seen by the Herald on Sunday, the Haywards’ lawyer Russell Bartlett QC described Knight’s actions as an “obsession” and “campaign of harassment”.

He called on the developer to cease making what he described as “manic threats” and leave the aging couple alone.

But Knight says he is not to blame for the bad blood. Claims he had harassed the couple were “completely and utterly wrong”.

“I have nothing to do with them.

“I can hold my head up high. I’m not a vicious person.”

The Haywards say the toxic relationship began in 2006 when Knight and his then business partner Tony Gapes bought a huge 20,000sq m parcel of land surrounding their home and purchased the leasehold rights to their Ōrākei Rd property from Ngāti Whātua.

About 700 apartments were originally envisaged. But issues with land ownership, timing, red tape and cost have seen the proposed development significantly scaled back.

Equinox Group was granted consent in 2018 to build 32 apartments in the development’s first stage – with a penthouse priced at $13m.

Work is yet to start.

Documents viewed by the Herald on Sunday show the Haywards have fielded four offers to give up their property.

They ranged from a proposed $1m payment, to a free apartment in the planned complex, right up to a $2.5m buy-out offer in 2014.

Owen believes the soured relationship with Knight is directly linked to their refusal to play ball.

“If we unlock all of that we’re enabling him to make hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s worth a lot of money and that’s why he doesn’t like me.”

The protracted dispute had been hugely stressful, Owen said.

“We do have our unhappy moments and we’re not getting any younger.

“I don’t think he thought for a minute we were still going to be here in 14 years’ time.”

Jane felt Knight’s behaviour was “childish”.

“He always gets his own way. He’s a very demanding man.”

Late last year they say Knight arranged for contractors to make incisions in their shared driveway.

He planned to build an entrance way fence to the village shops and safer pedestrian walkway.

But the Haywards claim it was a malicious attempt to block access to their next door site.

Owen demanded that the works cease and Knight responded by email: “Ok ill [sic] take that as us having to issue court proceedings to restrain you.”

Bartlett has now written to Knight’s solicitor requesting they “make good” on the damaged tarmac.

Knight told the Herald on Sunday he was perfectly entitled to carry out the driveway work and planned to file an injunction against the couple in the High Court.

But despite the latest stoush, he was happy for the Haywards to see out their lease.

Their occupancy was not stopping the apartment development and he could simply “build around them”.

Knight claimed the couple had demanded $3m to relocate, which he was not prepared to pay.

The ongoing tensions stemmed from his refusal to buy the Haywards out at a “premium” price, he said.

“These people have got a lease and when that lease expires they’re gone.

“We can build all around him and if we have to build in stages that’s fine.

“I’ve got no gripes with him whatsoever. He has got continuous gripes with us.”

'It's too hard'

Delays, spiralling costs and endless local government red tape could see a massive Auckland apartment development shelved amid a desperate need for more city housing.

Equinox Group director Kerry Knight said he’s ready to give up on his long-planned 700-apartment project at Ōrākei Point, despite years of development work and millions of dollars spent on consultants.

He blamed endless bureaucratic hurdles for the delays and opposition from a small band of ratepayers and councillors.

“It’s too hard to do development in the city. It will just stay as a barren wasteland.”

Knight had helped draft the master plan for a massive housing and retail development across 20,000sq m of land he helped purchase in 2006.

The project was to be built over and around the existing Ōrākei train station, including on Auckland Council land.

But it had to be scaled back due to issues with bringing the whole parcel of land under single ownership.

Knight said he’d helped prepare a new master plan which went to council for sign off. But he says it was knocked back by planners just before Christmas and he is now ready to walk away.

“They wanted us to start again. I said I can’t believe this.

“I would have hoped that council would actually say, ‘We need more houses, we need to make this work’. But I’m naive.”

Knight estimated 32 per cent of the price of each new build went on red tape and “mucking around”.

He said he no longer had the energy to pursue the Ōrākei project and was ready to abandon it.

Asked what he’d spent on the project so far, he said: “Millions – I hate to think”.

His next project was building a health and wellbeing retreat. He quipped that after his dealings with Auckland Council he would be the first customer.

In a statement, Auckland Council said the Ōrākei Point Precinct plan was prepared with close involvement from Auckland Transport, mana whenua, Kiwi Rail and landowners.

“The planning controls for the precinct were prepared to allow Ōrākei Point to meet its potential to become a vibrant community, with quality well-placed development and a variety of places to live, work, relax, and play.

“Specific controls were included within the Precinct to ensure development is integrated around a fast-moving public transport network, and that the area’s unique coastal location, geology and heritage are respected.”

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