Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Leaky-home battle goes Hollywood

Auckland activist likens her campaign for class action to that of Erin Brockovich

Lucy Lesnie has started a website to get justice for leaky-home victims who she says have been abandoned by the authorities. Photo / Natalie Slade
Lucy Lesnie has started a website to get justice for leaky-home victims who she says have been abandoned by the authorities. Photo / Natalie Slade

A self-styled "Erin Brockovich" has emerged to take on the leaky homes scandal, forming a website to rally victims to fight for their rights.

In the style of the American environmental activist played by Hollywood's Julia Roberts, Lucy Lesnie of Kingsland has formed a web-based action group to fight for the rights of victims of the $22 billion disaster.

She started www.leakyclassaction.co.nz to galvanise support for what she says is a calamity because tens of thousands of people have been abandoned by the Government and councils which set and enforced the rules allowing their home to be built.

"Think big tobacco-Erin Brockovich," she said. "I'm setting up the website with a view to getting an active community who want to get their issues resolved and who feel the Government has failed them.

The website has the specific purpose of gathering a community of Auckland property owners who want action."

It was particularly aimed at those rejected by the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service or the Government's $1 billion Financial Assistance Package (FAP) since it came into force in November 2010.

"It is totally not on that individual owners are expected to cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to sue councils who are using their own ratepayer money and big gun lawyers to fight us back."

Consultancy PwC says between 22,000 and 89,000 residences have been affected in the leaky homes crisis, yet Ms Lesnie says so few people can get state help they are left silenced, ashamed and stuck in wet houses.

"The end goal is to look to see how we can bring a class action."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said that up to September 30 only 12 FAP applicants were fully paid. By the end of last month, 24 payouts worth $1.68 million had been made, which Home Owners and Buyers Association chief executive Roger Levie described as farcical and Tim Rainey of Rainey Law said was "disappointing to say the least".

Ms Lesnie said the FAP was "absolute rubbish and a farce". She cannot get any financial help to fix her leaky apartment which she bought in 2004.

Three applications were made for state funding but all were rejected because her apartment was built in 2001, outside of the 10-year limit.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson this week said he would change the FAP system if it was proven flawed, although he warned it could not be "gamed" and was strict to protect taxpayer money.

Mr Levie said class actions were not possible under law in New Zealand, but judicial reviews or representative claims were alternatives.

"The implications of a win are huge and if it was successful in the High Court or Court of Appeal, it would be appealed to the Supreme Court because if the Government was found liable in one case, they would be liable for every home that failed. It's billions, zillions of dollars."

Adina Thorn, an Auckland lawyer representing leaky home victims, said Ms Lesnie stood to succeed.

"I would have thought if people banded together against the ministry in its decision under the FAP that they might have some luck. I am acting for a number of owners who are challenging decisions made under the FAP by way of judicial review proceedings to the High Court."

- NZ Herald

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