• Paul Lochore is managing director of Lochore's Real Estate, Birkenhead.

There is a silent epidemic spreading through our city. Its victims are ordinary people.

In our body corporate work my colleagues and I have first-hand experience of the suffering, hardship and extreme stress experienced by many owners of units in multi-title properties that are leaking and rotting and need recladding to meet stringent new local body requirements and the updated building code.

Many apartment owners are finding it impossible to fund the repairs of these compulsory building reclads, particularly if they are single or pensioners and not earning an income.

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I'm talking about people in agony. These are very good people who are being forced to the wall and no one gives a stuff. I've talked to many of these owners. I've seen the absolute hopelessness in their eyes. They're so bewildered. After nights of no sleep they eventually give up. No one is helping these people.

Banks are increasingly reluctant to lend money to repair leaky homes and particularly multi-unit titles. They can't on-sell these mortgages on to the New York bond market.

And banks won't lend to pensioners who have no income other than their pension. They're concerned about owners not being able to meet their outgoings of mortgage and rent, plus loan interest.

If the owners of leaky homes/units don't have savings, investments or access to family loans, they are often forced to sell at a big discounted price to investors. Owners in their 60s with a debt-free home can suddenly find themselves in the unforeseen position of having to part with a huge amount of money for their share of repairs to their unit.

The costs of these reclads are excessive. Council inefficiencies contribute to this. It costs on average $250,000 to $300,000 to repair each unit. This cost increases annually as it can often take five years of negotiations for a reclad to be completed.

The tragedy is that not every unit in these apartment blocks is leaking, but the council insists that every unit must be reclad. I know of one block of 70 units in which only 14 had major leaks, but the other 56 that weren't leaking had to be reclad regardless.

I reckon about 30 per cent of the apartment buildings on the North Shore have leak issues right now. I know of some that will involve major reclads that require urgent attention within the next three to six months. This will be compounded by our chronic shortage of qualified tradespeople and construction materials.

I'm talking about people in agony. These are very good people who are being forced to the wall and no one gives a stuff.

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When buildings have been constructed using untreated timber framing, the mould grows from the inside out. It can take five to eight years to appear. That's why leaky buildings are still being identified today. News of a prospective reclad usually comes as a bombshell to unsuspecting owners of units who have bought in good faith but now face a whopping bill many can't afford to pay. Unfortunately, their bad news has come after the Government's cut-off date for making a claim.

I meet these people every day. I see them weep at meetings and I feel angry at their plight and very powerless. They can't sleep at night. They don't know who to turn to. Nobody is listening. Nobody cares. Nobody is fighting for these people. Everyone is pretending the problem doesn't exist.

Recently I met a single mother with two kids, crying her eyes out. She has to find $290,000 to reclad her unit and also continue to pay her mortgage, as well as rent for 10 months while her unit is under repair.

By my reckoning, about 50 per cent of these multi-unit owners can't raise the money to pay their share of repairs. That's a lot of people who are being forced against the wall by their body corporate into a mortgagee sale from which they'll receive a very low price from a speculator investor. These people have worked all their lives and face losing their savings -- that's if they have a nest egg for retirement.

This is a huge issue. Let's talk about it. Let's do something about it. The Government has washed its hands of these victims and so has the Auckland Council. Meantime, it's a gravy train for anyone profiting from this misery: builders, engineers, architects, plasterers, painters, lawyers and the council.

The causes of leaky homes include poor design, inadequate building cladding systems and often sloppy workmanship. But the main cause was the Government's approval of the use of untreated kiln-dried framing timber in the mid-90s. Therefore the Government must take responsibility for fixing the problem.

One solution is for the Government to establish bond facilities to fund the repair costs so that cash-strapped owners of leaky units do not risk losing their homes. The bond would be repaid when the unit title owner's property was sold. The borrower would service the interest costs during the lifetime of the loan. The Government wouldn't outlay money, simply administer the bonds.

The second option is for the Government to guarantee the banks' recladding loans to owners.

We're supposed to be a caring nation. Nick Smith and Phil Goff, I'm begging you -- show some heart.