A Manawatū man has pledged to start a hunger strike after four years of battling with the heartbreak of a leaky and structurally defective home.

It's been a year since Lesley Thomas and George Griffiths, both in their fifties, first went public with the story of their leaky home, now George has hit rock bottom.

He has given the Manawatū District Council notice he'll start a hunger strike on Monday if it doesn't step in and help.

Just over four years ago, the pair bought their home half way up the Ruahine Ranges in Pohangina Valley, hoping to create a peaceful haven for people suffering from depression, and their families.

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In 2009, Griffiths' son Ryan took his own life at the age of 16.

"When Ryan passed away we got some peace being up high. Being up high, you got away from things and you can put things into perspective."

George Griffiths and Lesley Thomas have exhausted every avenue trying to get help with their plight. Photo / Alexander Robertson
George Griffiths and Lesley Thomas have exhausted every avenue trying to get help with their plight. Photo / Alexander Robertson

Griffiths said something is not right with New Zealand's alarming suicide statistics and they wanted to help.

"You've got the victims of people who take their lives, but you've also got the people who are left behind with the loss."

He and Thomas hoped the property could become a retreat to help others in a similar situation as Griffiths but their peaceful haven turned out be a nightmare they were unable to wake from.

Experts say the house should never have receive a Code Compliance Certificate from the Manawatū District Council. Photo / Alexander Robertson
Experts say the house should never have receive a Code Compliance Certificate from the Manawatū District Council. Photo / Alexander Robertson

After moving in, they discovered significant shortcomings in the way the home was built. Experts say the house should never have receive a Code Compliance Certificate from the Manawatū District Council.

Problem after problem has been uncovered, including water tightness, plumbing, retaining walls and even structural integrity.

Jeff Twigge of NZ House Surveys, took his report to a council meeting in September last year to shed light on what he had found.

He told the council he had "thrown them a bone" in the report and the council had two options:

"One is to pick this bone up, run with it and seek to resolve it with my clients. The other option is to do what a dog does and seek to bury that bone," said Twigge.

Councillor Barbara Cameron said the meeting "was not a place" to discuss the case and the council moved on to other matters.

Since going public a year ago, Thomas and Griffiths have had multiple meetings with the council, but have been told the only solution is to take the council to court - an action the couple say they cannot afford to do.

The pair wanted the house to help others who had been affected by depression. Instead, they describe their living situation as 'embarrassing'. Photo / Alexander Robertson
The pair wanted the house to help others who had been affected by depression. Instead, they describe their living situation as 'embarrassing'. Photo / Alexander Robertson

Thomas and Griffiths' case is not isolated.

Another couple in a similar situation - Milton and Jean Pedley took on Manawatū District Council over an allegedly invalid Code Compliance Certificate.

The Pedleys spent nearly half a million dollars, taking their case as far as the High Court but eventually ran out of money.

"We've been through the court process," Milton Pedley said. "We thought we'd be right, but we lost all the way so the courts out as far as I'm concerned. I'd never waste my time again with them. The council are untouchable and they'll keep it that way as long as they can."

Milton Pedley and his wife Jean Pedley warn against taking the legal route after their experience. Photo / Alexander Robertson
Milton Pedley and his wife Jean Pedley warn against taking the legal route after their experience. Photo / Alexander Robertson

Pedley said there was no justice for anyone who was honest, and democracy would only ever work if people were honest.

With the Pedleys' warning, Griffiths has chosen a different course of action.

This week the couple hand delivered a letter to Manawatū District Council chief executive Richard Templer, warning Griffiths will go on a hunger strike if the council does not take action to fix the shortcomings.

Griffiths' decision has not been made lightly and he feels the council has given them no other option.

His health is already at risk from a past accident and heating system in the house was too dangerous to use because of poor installation.

To keep warm over winter, the couple have shifted their bed to the lounge, a makeshift campsite they described as embarrassing.

Local Focus asked council chief executive Richard Templer and mayor Helen Warboys for comment but they refused, both saying the matter was subject to litigation.

Local Focus also contacted all councillors and all but one said the same thing.

Councillor Steve Bielski said the case was in the hands of council management.

"Well first of all it's a management matter, but as a councillor I'm voted in to represent the people of the Manawatū District, my heart does go out to Lesley and George and the situation they are in," he said.

Bielski said he didn't beleive it was realistic for most people in such a situation to launch legal proceedings.

"I don't know how many families in the Manawatū that could actually do that [lead a court case].

"To me, there must be a better way of handling this that is fair and reasonable to both sides that there is accountability met, and goodwill and the law is met."

With the days counting down to the start of George's hunger strike on Monday, October 8, Griffiths, Thomas and many others in the community continued to hope the council would come to the table and negotiate a resolution.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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