An Auckland lawyer has called for compensation for owners of homes allegedly damaged by roadworks on the Southern Motorway as the number of affected properties mounts.
Lawyer Adina Thorn said the estimated $500,000 damage to Conifer Grove resident Gayleen Smith's family home reported by the Herald last month was "horrific" and must be resolved.
Smith's house is one of many in South Auckland backing on to parts of the motorway where the NZ Transport Agency and construction firm CPB Contractors are adding more traffic lanes as part of a $268 million improvement project.
Up to a dozen Conifer Grove residents have so far alleged changing water levels or vibrations from rumbling machinery have caused hundreds-of-thousands of dollars of quake-like damage to their properties - a claim the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) denies.
Now a resident in nearby Manurewa East - who asked not to be named - has also come forward claiming her home and that of her neighbours had been damaged by the works.
Thorn said the growing number of complaints showed something had clearly gone wrong with the motorway's construction.
"There is just no way this should have happened, these are private homes that are cracking," she said.
"The Crown absolutely has got to step up and resolve it."
Many of the homeowners say the problem is compounded by a feeling they are locked in a David-and-Goliath battle with the NZTA and CPB.
The Manurewa East owner claimed months of vibrations had caused gaps to appear in the weatherboard exterior of her home and for cupboards and bench tops in her kitchen to detach from the walls.
Underneath her home, parts of the ground had begun to sink around the foundational pilings, leading her interior floor to also slope and sink in parts.
Prior to the roadworks commencing, the family had spent eight months living in a sleepout in the backyard as they paid more than $300,000 for major renovations.
Adding to the stress caused by the roadworks, the home owner also suffered a breast cancer scare.
Now NZTA and CPB have commissioned an engineer's report into the damage and set up monitors at her house to measure vibration levels from road work machinery, the homeowner said.
But she questioned how this would help after "the damage is already done".
The investigation process is similar to that taken by NZTA and CPB when Conifer Grove residents made complaints about damage to their homes.
In each of those cases, reports concluded vibration levels at the homes were "comfortably below the guideline values", NZTA senior manager project delivery, Chris Hunt earlier told the Herald.
Conifer Grove resident Smith claims that regardless of vibration levels, the cracks had appeared in her Walter Strevens Dr home after the roadworks started up.
Yet neither her insurance company, nor NZTA are willing to pay for the estimated $500,000 in repairs, arguing the damage dates from before the start of the motorway extension.
She said she had been through "two years of pure hell" trying to get a resolution.
Dianne Walker, living in nearby Brylee Dr, agreed saying she had also reported damages but said CPB were so hard to deal with that most other Conifer Grove residents simply gave up.
Thorn visited Conifer Grove and said the "horrendous" damage to Smith's home was heartbreaking.
"I went away from Gayleen's house in tears. She has lost her life's savings," she said.
Thorn believed vibrations or changing water levels from the road works are likely to have either caused or contributed to the damage at the homes and that under public nuisance laws the NZTA is responsible.
University of Auckland senior law lecturer Marcus Roberts wouldn't comment on this case.
But he said under nuisance laws all landowners are held responsible for activities on their land that cause "more than merely trivial physical damage" to a neighbour's property.
"If their activities cause a nuisance, they are liable full stop," he said.
Arguing that they "took all reasonable steps to prevent the nuisance" will not be a defence, he said.
The NZTA's Hunt said the agency had "not accepted responsibility for any damage, however we will ensure appropriate repairs are made to any damage deemed by an independent expert to have been caused by the works".
He acknowledged "this is a difficult time for Gayleen Smith" and that the agency was aware of complaints of damage at three homes in Greenmeadows Ave in Manurewa East.
"We have been engaged in resolution dialogue with affected property owners for some months to assess each individual property owner's situation," he said.
"Given we are dealing with public money, the Transport Agency needs to ensure all claims are investigated appropriately."
However, Thorn said the NZTA should move faster because the issue was "not going to get any better for these homeowners, and it is not going to get any better for NZTA".
"Whether [those in damaged homes] have to get compensation or they've got to be moved, I don't know, but the Crown probably should have acquired these properties to start with," she said.