Lax fire protection and safety measures in New Zealand apartment buildings are putting the lives of occupants and emergency service workers at dire risk, a property watchdog warns.
Home Owners and Buyers Association of NZ (Hobanz) president John Gray says his organisation holds "grave concerns" for the safety of the nation's apartment and terraced housing complexes, many of which suffer from "a lack of proper fire rating and fire protection".
"In our view it's the negligence, in fact the wilful negligence, on the part of designers, builders and certifiers at the time when these buildings were built.
"These weren't mistakes. It's not an error. These were a wilful or negligent act to save costs."
His comments follow horrific images from a London tower block fire that has so far cost at least a dozen lives.
The inferno consumed the building, forcing occupants to jump from window. Some people are blaming the building's cladding for the speed at which the fire spread and there are questions around the buildings fire alarm and sprinkler systems.
Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Gray defended his comments as "the truth".
"We have evidence to prove that the buildings [here] have been structurally unsound. They've been unsound from a fire safety perspective. These buildings have had a life safety risk so we've gone well beyond the leaky homes issues."
The leaky buildings fiasco had been the catalyst for identifying fire safety problems, Gray said, as buildings with weathertightness problems were opened up for remediation work, revealing other failings.
But Hobanz feared for the thousands of buildings that had not undergone remediation work and posed potential life-threatening risks to owners, tenants and emergency service workers in the event of a fire.
"We have endeavoured to get government to take a closer look. We've event been in touch with the New Zealand Fire Service because we have some concerns about the safety of their personnel when they enter these buildings."
Gray said many apartment buildings did not have the proper protective steel coating to "delay defamation" of the steel and prevent buildings collapsing during an intense fire".
[The coating] gives the rescue services time to go into the buildings and pull people out.
The fire service actually acknowledged that they were aware of that risk and had reduced the time ... inside these buildings because of the risk.
"It's known but we're only capturing the buildings that are remediated. What we're not seeing is a concerted effort to ensure that all of those other buildings that haven't been touched by way of leaky building remediation are being audited and that fire rating and fire protection issues are properly identified."