Anne Gibson 's Opinion

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Anne Gibson: Victory for homeowners but we all must foot the bill

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When official data is released on New Zealand's worst spots for leaking homes, Auckland beats other areas. Photo / Thinkstock
When official data is released on New Zealand's worst spots for leaking homes, Auckland beats other areas. Photo / Thinkstock

"Oh, not another leaky building story!" an exasperated colleague complained to me in 2001.

I thought I was on to a big story at the time, but he didn't seem as keen. It was all so gloomy, he said, who really wanted to know? Couldn't I find something better to write about than a block of Ponsonby leakers? It was, after all, the start of the good times, after the awful 1990s, and house prices seemed to be just starting to take off.

Remuera couple John and Helen Osborne have just beaten Auckland Council in the Supreme Court, so there can be good news in all this, right?

Yet the other side of this is that whether we are property-owning ratepayers, landlords or tenants, we're all dragged unwittingly into this rotten homes mess, a national disaster which PwC estimated in 2009 could cost $11 billion to $22 billion and affect 22,000 to 89,000 dwellings.

The council is partly funded by rates, so any losses for a territorial authority are losses for us all.

When official data is released on New Zealand's worst spots for leaking homes, Auckland beats other areas.

Yet it should be remembered that councils like Auckland were simply following rules at the time. Those rules were set by the now disbanded Building Industry Authority, later absorbed into the Department of Building and Housing.

Two documents spelled out the seriousness of the situation: the first was the 2002 Hunn report which listed an unfortunate combination of factors creating weathertightness issues, including the Greens' successful lobbying against treating timber with that nasty chemical boron, widely accepted to have insecticidal properties but not so widely known to have benefits as a fungicide - it kept the bugs out but if water hit the wood, it slowed fungal decay rates. The Hunn report had 25 recommendations for change.

The second report was PwC's Weathertightness - Estimating the Cost, which identified the scale of the problem.

While it might be timely to examine the genesis of the problem, there are really no winners and litigation takes a heavy toll, financially and emotionally, on all parties.

Oh, and by the way, boron's back.

Anne Gibson has covered this issue for 14 years.

- NZ Herald

Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald. She has been writing about property issues since 1985 when she founded the National Business Review's Property section. She has won awards from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand and the Property Institute of New Zealand. She is a specialist finance writer in the New Zealand Herald.

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