Investigator appointed as cowboy builders come under spotlight

Concern about shoddy building work in Auckland has prompted the appointment of a full-time council investigator to lay complaints with professional licensing bodies.

Auckland Council building control chief Ian McCormick said last night his staff had laid 22 complaints over the past year with a government board empowered to fine or suspend licensed practitioners such as designers, carpenters, roofers or foundation specialists.

With another 39 complaints being finalised, he had appointed in the past two months a quality assurance auditor to streamline the process as well as a two-member elite building inspection team to advise on how to remedy seriously faulty work.

"We had been coming across so many examples of substandard work and incompetency issues with LBPs [licensed building practitioners] and some engineers that we've ended up having to create a role to do investigations," he told the Herald.

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Mr McCormick did not have details to hand of recent decisions by the Licensed Building Practitioners Board - which comes under the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment - but said the Institution of Professional Engineers had upheld four council complaints against its members.

He said one large new home in West Auckland was so poorly built it would probably have to be demolished.

"It was completely out of level - one end of the floor slab was 30cm higher than the other end," he said.

"From what I could see [from a video inspection], there didn't seem to be a single stud or lintel that was true in the entire building."

A roof was already on the building, although its walls had yet to be lined, but his inspectors did not think it was salvageable.

The new council appointments have been seized on by Labour's housing spokesman, Phil Twyford, to lambast the Government for its proposal to consider allowing builders to sign off some of their own work as "sheer lunacy".

"This is just another example of National's mindless ideological love of deregulation," the MP said. "[Local Government Minister] Paula Bennett says the country has moved on from the leaky homes catastrophe, but it's clear she hasn't learned from previous mistakes."

But Mr McCormick said the problems emanated from just a small proportion of the industry, and there may be a case for some self-certification subject to strong auditing procedures and liability insurance to give the community confidence in builders signing off non-critical work.

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"We've got some absolutely excellent world-class builders and practitioners, and some other folk who probably need a bit of support, so we are very keen to work with them and their professional organisations," he said. "Then there is another group of people who don't have the skills and competencies, and for some reason don't seem to be taking their responsibilities seriously.

"It's probably because of the scale we are working to, and the industry is so active at the moment, that there are a lot of folk who have come into it who don't have some of the competency we would like."

He said the council supported much of a report issued on Tuesday by the Government's rules reduction taskforce. "We're not talking about reducing the quality of the work, but certainly think there are opportunities to make it easier for customers to get building consents and engage with us."

Master Builders' Association chief David Kelly was unaware of the council's new appointments and said only a handful of his organisation's 2000 or so members had been suspended in the past year for questionable practices.

Building concern

22

Complaints by Auckland Council to the Licensed Building Practitioners' Board over the past year

39 Complaints pending

4 Council complaints to the Institution of Professional Engineers upheld