Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Homeowners taking council to court over subsiding land

Grant Collins (left) and John Grundy live in Western Rd, Ngongotaha, where the houses are sinking. Photo  / Christine Cornege
Grant Collins (left) and John Grundy live in Western Rd, Ngongotaha, where the houses are sinking. Photo / Christine Cornege

The embattled owners of a group of subsiding homes are going to court against their council after it appealed a rare and drastic determination by the Department of Building and Housing.

The owners of three recently built homes in a subdivision near Rotorua say they have been battling since the homes they poured their savings into - and which the Rotorua District Council certified - began sinking.

Western Rd residents John and Eileen Grundy, Grant Collins and Shirley Vos and Richard and Katy Davis say they knew nothing about the sodden land quality when they moved in - but claim the council did know when it issued building consents and code compliance certificates for the three houses four years ago.

The problem has been gradually getting worse and the Davis family are now afraid to bring their baby home to a bedroom where the worst cracks in the house appeared.

After failing to gain a rates freeze from the council or secure compensation, they approached the Department of Building and Housing for a determination. The department made the rare step of overturning the council's decisions, which an independent expert found were "incorrect" because of poor ground conditions at a neighbouring property in the same subdivision.

The developer's consultants stated in their scheme plan that "overall the site is stable, able to be drained and suitable in parts for building development".

The plan submitted that the council approve the development on the grounds that "no land subject to instability" was to be included in it.

The families had feared meeting the council in court - having been advised the case could cost up to $150,000. The council has advised it will appeal the determination, seeking a judgment to reinstate the consents and certificates - and also seek that legal costs be paid by the homeowners.

"We are going to fight. If we don't fight, we've got something that is valueless - we've got something that we can't sell. We need to move on, we need to get our lives back. The fact the council is using ratepayer money - and our rates also - to take us to court and then expect us to pay again ... this is just bloody ridiculous."

Mr Collins called for the Government to intervene again, and appoint a commissioner to resolve the issue.

Darrell Holder, the council's building services manager, said the department had made no conclusions as to the civil responsibility of the council over the matter.

"The council is of the view that it doesn't have any responsibility for losses which may be claimed in relation to the construction of the three houses."

BETWEEN THE CRACKS

* It is extremely rare for the Department of Building and Housing to reverse building consents and code compliance certificates.
* Between 2009 and 2011, the department issued 379 determinations, of which just four (1.1 per cent) overturned consents and 11 (2.9 per cent) overturned code compliance certificates.
* Of the four building consents overturned, one had not progressed beyond the consent stage and so building work had not begun, while building work had been completed for the other three.

- NZ Herald

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