Property Report: Crazy builders caught out

By Sandra Goodwin

The construction of illegal structures is keeping Auckland council inspectors busy.
The construction of illegal structures is keeping Auckland council inspectors busy.

Bizarre-but-true examples of Auckland's unapproved residential building modifications include an attempt to tart up an old pig-sty into rentals and the construction of a towering pagoda-style 'prayer deck'.

Auckland Council is investigating what action to take over a former South Auckland pig-sty discovered being converted into four rental units.

Due to the severity of district plan and building code breaches involved, Auckland Council's general manager of building control Ian McCormick believes it's unlikely the work can be retrospectively approved. He expects most of the 'improvements' will have to be pulled down.

The owner of the three-storey pagoda-style 'prayer deck' built on the North Shore without consents dismantled it after the council issued a notice to fix.

Other tales include a damp carport conversion with under-deck outside cooking, asking $300 rent weekly, and an owner who had a building consent but ignored conditions requiring interim support during excavation.

That caused a hole to open up on a neighbour's side of the fence which the neighbour's dog plummeted into.

McCormick doesn't know how many properties have changes requiring consents that haven't been applied for.

"But in some cases our staff are just stumbling across them because they're quite common," he says. "We've relatively frequently had staff go to investigate unconsented work we've been alerted to and mistakenly go to the neighbours' place but encounter a worse case of unpermitted work there anyway."

He believes Auckland's sky-rocketing property prices are partly to blame.

"People are having to stretch themselves more to buy Auckland properties. Many are then trying to create additional residential units to bring money in, often involving unconsented work."

Owners granted building consent to add a basement are known to get a Code of Compliance Certificate (CCC) before adding an unconsented kitchen enabling separate rental.

Another common scenario is inexpensively divvying up houses with partitions, boarding house-style, creating multiple rentals with basic cooking set-ups.

Both situations can create a fire risk.

"These situations tend to take advantage of people from lower socio-economic groups forced to take the most economic deal they can get for accommodation," McCormick says.

A consented minor secondary dwelling normally incurs a development contribution helping fund Auckland's infrastructure and roading upkeep. Unconsented dwellings force those who follow the process to bear an unfair share of those costs.

Current owners are responsible for the implications of unconsented work even if it pre-dates them. That's why getting a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) summarising the property's information and viewing its property file detail are so important before buying.

McCormick recommends getting a building surveyor's pre-purchase inspection to confirm structures are consistent with the paperwork.

Neighbours or tenants often report unconsented work but owners aren't necessarily made to take action.

"Council looks at cases through the lens of 'is it insanitary; is it unsafe; is it causing any adverse effects?'"

If so, the owner may have to fix the work, apply for a Certificate of Acceptance or remove it.

It's at council's discretion whether they prosecute owners under The Building Act 2004 Section 40, which requires certain work be carried out under a Building Consent.

"The maximum fine available for the offence is $200,000 but we've certainly never had a fine anywhere near that," McCormick says.

Last year a landlord who pleaded guilty to building an unsafe deck fixed to a house by just nails rather than the bolts required under the Building Code was fined $4500 plus court costs of $130.

In September 2014, five people were sent to hospital after a deck in Te Atatu West Auckland collapsed during an 80-year-old's birthday party.

- NZ Herald

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