Stop­ping the rot – a Clay­ton’s re­ply

Central Leader - - Opinion -

A city of more than 80,000 peo­ple with ev­ery home dam­aged, street af­ter street of fam­i­lies in des­per­ate fi­nan­cial need, fight­ing their way through per­sonal dis­as­ter and un­able to see a way out.

To give a real idea of scale, a com­mu­nity big­ger than Whangarei, half as big again as Napier, the size of Palmer­ston North.

That’s the ex­tent of this coun­try’s con­tin­u­ing and grow­ing dis­as­ter, the equiv­a­lent of a quake-tsunam­i­flood-land­slide site with a grossly un­der­stated la­bel of “leaky homes”.

The last time I wrote about the cri­sis, let­ters from vic­tims flooded in – bad words in the cir­cum­stances.

They were heart-break­ing. All told of sim­i­lar, dread­ful ex­pe­ri­ences.

You don’t need to write to me again. Ac­cept that I know the ex­tent of the prob­lem and the depths of de­spair. And so do oth­ers.

Ex­pert Greg O’Sul­li­van, who first warned of a cri­sis in the mak­ing in 1994, es­ti­mates that $11 bil­lion and 20 years might be needed to lit­er­ally stop the rot.

An­other quoted es­ti­mate is that 350,000 prop­er­ties were built with un­treated or un­der-treated tim­ber, and they could sur­face in those 20 years.

For le­gal rea­sons I am not iden­ti­fy­ing th­ese vic­tims who have writ­ten or to the coun­cil they dealt with or the ex­perts they cite. Their story tells it all:

Amaz­ing what a piece of pa­per can mean in your life. We fi­nally have our Code of Com­pli­ance Cer­tifi­cate.

We bought our home 10 years ago.

Kids had left, time to down­size, handy to the im­por­tant things in our lives, al­most new, loved it.

That feel­ing didn’t take long to turn to de­spair.

We had be­come vic­tims of Leaky Home Syn­drome.

When we re­alised, we had no idea where to turn for help or ad­vice and there is still nowhere to go without hav­ing to put both your hands in your pocket.

We have lived with our leaky home and on our track of de­spair for eight years and are now fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally stripped by a soul-de­stroy­ing process.

We started with the Mas­ter Builders’ As­so­ci­a­tion, then the Weather­tight Homes Res­o­lu­tion Ser­vice. Both were a waste of time.

As other peo­ple have told us since, the 58-page re­port that sug­gested the cost to re­pair our house was $4000 is not worth the pa­per it’s writ­ten on.

We were sucked in by the coun­cil to set­tle on this amount, once again not know­ing any bet­ter or who to ask.

Mak­ing our home leakproof has cost us about $70,000.

We have been used and abused by a small group of peo­ple col­lect­ing vast in­comes from home­own­ers in our po­si­tion, in­clud­ing the en­gi­neer who took six months to get his re­port to us

We were in­structed by the coun­cil to use th­ese peo­ple – we had no choice.

Once we had the per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion in with the coun­cil, it took 12 months to be ap­proved. We would just get close and they would come up with some­thing else that needed to be looked at by an “ex­pert”.

Mean­while, ev­ery time it rained we got the buck­ets out.

It took us four builders to find one who knew what he was talk­ing about.

The first thing that builder did was to take the spout­ing off. We had no more wa­ter in af­ter that day.

We have lived with scaf­fold­ing, saw­dust, end­less dust, no win­dows and/or walls at dif­fer­ent times with some­times noth­ing more than build­ing pa­per be­tween us and the out­side for more than six months.

We couldn’t af­ford to live some­where else while the work was done.

Are we an­gry? Yes. Have we lost faith in the sys­tem? Yes. No one wants to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for this mess. The orig­i­nal builder of our home is bank­rupt. Sim­ple, can’t be touched.

This whole mess is mak­ing a lot of money for a small group of peo­ple in­clud­ing lawyers – we did not go there, we couldn’t af­ford it, and even if you do go through the court process you have to fight to prove you are the in­no­cent one.

The own­ers of th­ese homes like ours are be­ing stripped of ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing their dig­nity. We could cer­tainly give all the ad­vice needed – in­clud­ing the time in­volved in cry­ing.

Peo­ple like th­ese bought homes be­liev­ing they were built to a rea­son­able stan­dard. For var­i­ous rea­sons they weren’t.

Buy­ers found them­selves with no re­dress. Of­ten the de­vel­op­ers have de­clared them­selves bank­rupt. Oth­ers, like their com­pa­nies, have sim­ply dis­ap­peared.

Lo­cal bodies who ap­proved plans and construction are run­ning for cover, fear­ing huge dam­ages if they and their of­fi­cers are held legally li­able.

And what about the gov­ern­ment whose de­part­ments ig­nored ex­pe­ri­ence in Canada in the 1960s, failed to see the short­com­ings in new build­ing reg­u­la­tions and which now shrugs off any re­spon­si­bil­ity?

The view from the Bee­hive is summed up by this ear­lier let­ter from my bulging file, a re­sponse from the then Labour Min­is­ter of Hous­ing, Clay­ton Cos­grove, to a leaky home owner’s let­ter like the one I’ve quoted: “Firstly, let me say that I have the ut­most sym­pa­thy for you in your dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. Own­ing a leaky home is a fi­nan­cial and emo­tional bur­den.

“I am dis­ap­pointed to hear that the builder went bank­rupt and did not pay you the agreed set­tle­ment amount.

“I trust that you have scru­ti­nised the set­tle­ment agree­ment closely to en­sure there is no way you can pro­ceed fur­ther in seek­ing rec­om­pense. A lawyer may be able to help you with this.

“You men­tion in your let­ter that your house is un­saleable in its cur­rent con­di­tion and that the LIM re­port is a fur­ther bar­rier to sell­ing your home.

“If you have reached the point where sell­ing your home is an op­tion, you could dis­cuss this fur­ther with real es­tate agents and val­uers.

“While the full value of your home will not be re­alised there are buy­ers who are will­ing to take on leaky homes and re­pair them.”

He’s no longer the min­is­ter but, sadly, if you asked Maryan Street – Hous­ing – and Shane Jones – Build­ings and Construction – or the prime min­is­ter you’d prob­a­bly get the same “ut­most sym­pa­thy-no li­a­bil­ity-don’t call us” Clay­ton’s re­ply from them as well.

If you’re a vic­tim looking for jus­tice or sim­ply have a gen­uine sym­pa­thy for those who are, check the re­sponse of your lo­cal glad-hand­ing elec­tion candidates. And don’t take the Clay­ton’s “ut­most sym­pa­thy” for an an­swer. I cer­tainly don’t.

Nor would ap­par­ently dis­in­ter­ested MPs if those 80,000 aching, an­gry and aban­doned leaky home own­ers – who would be seen as a dis­as­ter area if they weren’t scat­tered through the coun­try – were in­stead vot­ers in one MP’s elec­torate. Theirs.

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