At least one owner of a leaky home has taken his own life and 10 others are on suicide watch, while hundreds of others are facing bankruptcy and wrecked lives as aggressive body corporates hound them for thousands of dollars to fix leaky buildings.
Stacked atop their broken housing dreams comes ill health, depression, anxiety and sleeplessness as they watch debts they cannot possibly pay balloon with penalty interest.
Leaky home advocate and Air New Zealand pilot John Gray puts in hundreds of hours a month helping desperate apartment and multi-unit complex owners who can't afford their share of bills run up by body corporates. Legal help is equally unaffordable.
Gray predicts the leaky building human toll will be enormous. He knows at least 10 people on "suicide watch" and many more who are seriously depressed. The Herald on Sunday understands that earlier this year, a North Shore man, unable to pay his share of repairs to a multi-storey apartment, committed suicide.
Gray, who chairs the Leaky Homes Action Group, is almost overwhelmed by the number of distraught people worried about threats from body corporates over unpaid repair bills.
He has lashed out at some "self-serving" body corporates, investor owners who can afford to pay for repairs showing scant regard for owners struggling to pay mortgages, let alone the thousands extra for leaky building repairs. He says they have overstepped their jurisdiction and asks whether they have the right to demand remedial work be carried out not only on common property but on private property.
Last week, Parnell apartment owner Wayne Young was staring down bankruptcy after members of his apartment block's body corporate applied for summary judgment against him. Young, who can't afford a lawyer, is being helped by Gray. Young filed an affidavit disputing legal aspects of the case and was granted a High Court adjournment until October 3.
Gray argues body corporates are morally obliged to find solutions to help apartment owners. He suggests they should consider taking out loans to give poorer apartment owners more time to pay instead of being heavy handed.
Instead, body corporates are railroading through decisions to fix entire buildings immediately and threatening some apartment owners with legal action when they can't pay their share.
Budget blowouts mean that even if the body corporate is awarded a settlement, the final cost of repairs often escalate to two or three times the original estimate, he says.
In the case of an Ellerslie six-storey complex, the repair budget blowout was $5.5 million higher than the amount settled for. The repair costs were 200 per cent higher than the original estimate.
"Now, of course, those owners can't bridge the gap. They can't go back for more money because the settlement has been done."
Gray expects several owners will face bankruptcy in that complex alone. He is currently dealing with 35 apartment owners on the verge of bankruptcy and expects more.
"There will be a domino effect. You get one owner falling over, then the financial burden has to be carried by all the other owners. Once the work is started the body corporate is bound by the Construction Contracts Act to honour the contracts and make all payments. In the worst-case scenario all the owners could be bankrupted."
Gray said the human cost was mounting. "People have had mental breakdowns over this. They've been hospitalised and put into special care under the Mental Health Act. There are so many that are the walking dead in so far as how they have been affected.
"These poor sods are struggling to save their houses and their sanity. One woman has been in and out of hospital." Now she had given up and was waiting on bankruptcy.
Owners of a 20-storey leaky apartment building in Auckland City have just got the news it will cost $8 million to fix. Two Mt Eden complexes were so badly rotted they had to be propped up to stop them falling down.
They were almost "beyond economic repair", Gray said and "serious legal money" would be needed to find a way around that problem.
Leaky Home Saga
* "Leaky Building Syndrome" came to light in 2002 after new buildings began leaking and rotting.
* Causes include badly installed monolithic cladding; poor construction that didn't allow for drainage or drying; inadequate rules; lack of expertise with materials; untreated timber.
* 15,000 leaky homes nationwide, half in Auckland City.
* Leaky Homes Action Group claims at least 7500 homes in Auckland City will cost an average of $200,000 to repair.
* Although courts are finding councils owe a small portion of settlements, many builders and developers have collapsed or gone into liquidation, leaving councils to bear the brunt
* Waitakere City Council was forced to pay $250,900 to Hobsonville home owner Colleen Dicks.
* Last month, a law gave owners the right to sue for general damages.