Roger Levie: Don't forget the leaky-home crisis

By Roger Levie

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Leaky ceiling. Photo / Anthony Phelps
Leaky ceiling. Photo / Anthony Phelps

With only a few days left until the election we have not even heard a mention of the leaky home issue despite the fact that it continues to be one of the biggest problems facing ordinary New Zealanders. Do our politicians really think the problem is solved or are they just not up to dealing with the elephant in the room?

This extract from an email received last week from a distraught leaky home owner tells the story better than I can. "We are both 52 years of age and still paying a mortgage on building the original house. We have two young boys, aged 13 and 16 who we can no longer shield from the truth that their parents could be in serious financial trouble in the future. They are boys who are more than capable of a university education but as things stand we will be unable to offer them any financial help."

The email goes on to ask "Is New Zealand a country that really does care about laws and legislation protecting its individual citizens or is it there to protect the Government, Councils and industry? Do Kiwis even care about the Government creating the conditions where an injustice was committed that has, and will in the future, financially cripple innocent individuals? Or are we becoming a society where we walk around an injured person lying in the street?"

Sadly, it seems we are becoming the later. New Zealand is a country of increasing inequality and the way we are currently approaching this crippling issue is only going to make matters worse.

In October 2011 in response to questions on the Government Financial Assistance Package (now affectionately known as "the FAP") Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson told Parliament "What the Government has put in place gives [leaky home owners] a fantastic future ... the uptake has been spectacular-more than 200 homeowners have already put their applications in and qualified."

Really Minister? Have you forgotten the PWC report you commissioned in which the expert's view is that around 110,000 homes are likely to fail!

Despite all the hype around the FAP few of those affected will actually qualify. Many owners will not be able to come up with the other 50 per cent - 75 per cent of the repair cost and over 60 per cent of homes built in the highest risk period are now more than 10 years old so these owners are on their own.

Adding to the problem is that fact that even if you own a monolithically clad plaster home that has not failed its value will have declining significantly. And it's not just plaster homes that are failing - homes of all cladding types are affected. This problem is undermining the financial and emotional security of tens of thousands of good New Zealanders.

The underlying theme of everything on offer is to minimise the financial exposure of Councils and Government rather than to ensure that homes are properly repaired to a robust standard where they won't fail again.

Government and Council would have us believe that anything more than the scope recommended by the Government appointed assessor is an "owner option" and that home owners are getting gold plated solutions and new homes out of this process.

That is simply not true. Most home owners are following the advice of their own
independent building expert who has proposed a solution they consider appropriate to minimize the risk of future failure and restore the value of the home - is that too much for an innocent home owner to expect?

Some think this is just a rich man's problem, but that could not be further from the truth. Certainly many of the homes you see around the suburbs shrink wrapped are of higher value but that's because the owners can actually afford to repair them.

Lower value homes are not immune, in fact, we suspect that many are in an even worse state but owners simply don't have the resources to repair them. As a result many poorer families are living in damp moldy homes contributing to a myriad of social and health problems.

The truth is that we are only scratching the surface of this issue at present and it is going to have a significant detrimental effect on our economy and the health and wellbeing of kiwis long into the future.

What is our next bunch of politicians planning to do about this? Are they willing to make an honest attempt at finding a truly meaningful solution to this crippling problem or will they just leave it to fester?

* Roger Levie is chief executive of the Home Owners and Buyers Association.

- NZ Herald

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