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Recalling experience of leaky homes: 30 years back


by Ian Ritchie

My first, first hand experience of a leaky home was almost 30 years ago: a two year old, two storey house on two acres. We moved in while the subdivision title was coming through.

It rained and the water flowed across the inside lower floor.

I refused to complete an unconditional contract. At that stage there was only one legal precedent for doing this in the Commonwealth. I finished up getting my deposit back after declining to buy it for half? the price on an 'as is where is' basis. A "mediation" session was involved with the City Engineer and City Building Inspector. I knew that the extensive file on the house had disappeared, a promised enquiry had not taken place, the alcoholic building inspector at the time had been prematurely retired. One of my main memories is that during the meeting I called the City Building Inspector a liar and at the end of the meeting he shook me by the hand, I think respectfully.

What made the difference was that I held the trump card and got what I wanted.

After that I followed the reporting of "similar" cases in New Zealand. The government department most interested shortly after decided to move towards law changes top absolve local authorities from responsibility for inappropriate permits or inspections.

My next experience of mediation was at a Disputes Tribunal as a support person. Informal - no way. The one thing that really impressed me was that nothing the complainant said carried any wait unless the offending company representatives agreed, which they had no intention of doing. The result was that while the company responsible for the totally inadequate job was slightly inconvenienced, the complainant essentially got nothing.

I have heard the same story from Tenancy Tribunal hearings and other Disputes Tribunal hearings.

'No lawyers involved' means, as some current 'leaking home owners' who have been through the process have said, that the power lies with the company. The complainant has no power or leverage at all. Generally everything they say will be contested, their word will not be accepted unless every point is supported by an independent professional expert on the matter.

The mediator at the hearing I was at was intent on a settlement and went for the lowest, least significant point for settlement and then persuaded the parties, neither of whom wanted it, to agree as there was no other way forward, and it was what he would have ruled if he had had to.

In the case of the government's 'Leaky Homes Mediation Service', there is no power to enforce, the same limitations will apply and I suggest that few if any 'leaky home' owners will be dealing with sufficiently willing other parties to enable a satisfactory result for them, to be achieved.

The confidentiality of settlements also makes the system a farce as it means that there are no precedents set that can be used as bargaining chips.

The only effective course I can see is for 'leaky home owners' with a common target / company / developer etc to get together to take a class court action, to gain the strength to fight for the chance of a decent settlement.

All the best

Ian Ritchie

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