Reforms too late for couple in leaky home nightmare

The Browns are confined to their bedroom while major repairs continue.

A call by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff last month for radical reform of the Building Act and Building Code has come too little and too late for Algies Bay retirees Gerrard and Evelyn Brown.

For more than a year, the couple, both in their eighties, have been confined to the study and one bedroom of their house while repairs to the rest of what was to be their dream retirement home take place.

Beyond their two-room enclave, everything is covered in plastic and surrounded in scaffolding.

The couple has spent all their retirement savings trying to fix their house, with repair costs exceeding the original building costs and continuing to mount.

“Heaven knows what the finish cost will be. As for a completion forecast, not even the builders doing the repairs will hazard a guess,” Mr Brown says.

The couple’s only income is superannuation and they cannot sell their home, as it would not realise enough to rent a property.

The impact on the couple’s health and wellbeing has been enormous.

“Travel to our family and grandchildren is no longer possible, and shopping is restricted to grocery shopping only.

“This has all but destroyed us.”

As remedial work has continued more problems have emerged.

Rotten wood in a rotten home.

The couple’s nightmare began when they engaged Cranston Homes to build a house for them in 2003.

Following completion of the build, Cranston addressed minor water ingress issues during the build guarantee, but made no offer to undertake repairs when major problems emerged 13 years later, around 2016.

Former Cranston director Blair Cranston says due to several other leaky building claims, the company became insolvent and had to be placed into voluntary liquidation.

“Therefore, it was simply unable to respond to Mr and Mrs Brown,” he says.

Mr Cranston says the failure of the Browns’ home was the result of “widely accepted deficiencies” that prevailed in the building industry at the time.

“The failings in this home were caused by a variety of issues, including inadequate design solutions, unsuitable architectural design, poor building standards, poor workmanship and the use of unacceptable building materials,” he says.

“I regret not suggesting a more rigorous invasive investigation much earlier. For this, I apologise to the Browns.”

Auckland lawyer Mike Thornton, a specialist in leaky building cases, says many people in the Brown’s predicament have sued Auckland Council for issuing a Code Compliance Certificate (CCC) for a defective building.

The Browns have a CCC, but they did not detect they had a problem with a leaky home within the 10-year timeframe for making a claim against Council.

“The 10-year period was initially intended by Parliament to be longer – 15 years – but pressure from the building industry stopped this,” Mr Thornton says.

“Had the period been 15 years, it would have allowed the Browns to make an eligible claim once they discovered they had a problem. Parliament cannot change the law retrospectively, so the Browns have no ability to make a legal claim.

“Sadly, this is not unusual. While there are no reliable figures, there must be many people in a similar situation.”

Despite the Council getting off the hook in the Browns’ case, it has had to pay out hundreds of millions to settle other cases.

Mr Goff said the weathertightness issue had cost ratepayers $600 million.

“Those who did the poor work are nowhere to be found and Council as the consenter is the last man still standing,” Mr Goff said.

He made the remarks after Council made submissions on government proposals to improve the building regulatory system.

Council is calling for an insurance and warranty scheme that “directly incentivises companies to do the job properly and for general ratepayers, through Council, to meet only a fair proportion of liability for
substandard work”.

The government is expected to make its decisions on building regulation reform by the end of the year.

The plastic aims to stop more water coming in.


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