Stopping the rot – a Clayton’s reply
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.