leaky buildings

Tens of thousands of homeowners throughout New Zealand have been affected by ‘leaky building syndrome’ in homes built since about 1990. Recent estimates say the crisis has affected 15,000-plus houses and will cost at least $1 billion to fix. 

It is the unfortunate and devastating result of insufficiently-tested new building methods and materials, hurried construction and lax controls. Once water gets into the framing of a leaky building it stays there, gradually warping the timber (which often cracks the cladding, and allows more water in) and provides a breeding ground for moulds, fungus and decay. Eventually the timber becomes weakened and, under pressure, can give way completely. Until that happens, it can be very difficult, or even impossible, for the casual observer to tell that there is anything untoward going on. 

The regions where the leaky buildings problem are greatest are those with recent and rapid growth: Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, Nelson and Queenstown/Wanaka. Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin have their share, too. 

Any size of building can be affected, from small standalone town houses and terraced housing complexes through to apartment high-rises. Those with plaster claddings, flat roofs, no eaves and insufficient flashings around windows and doors are those most likely to be affected. 

To repair the damage, often the entire cladding will need to be removed, and the structural timber replaced: this costs an average of about $200,000, although some cost more than $500,000. In some cases it is deemed more cost-effective to simply demolish the building and start again. 

Even where the owners of leaky buildings are entitled to compensation (from the builder for shoddy workmanship, for example, or from the council for not checking that the proposed building method or the actual building work were up to scratch), it can take more than a year for cases to be resolved. 

Although it’s not only monolithic-clad (‘Mediterranean’ style) buildings which are affected, these have had the highest profile, and they can be difficult to sell because of the stigma, with some potential buyers not wanting to even consider them after all the horror stories they’ve read about. 

Unfortunately, lack of confidence in the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service has meant that some owners are opting for court action instead: they often get diverted for confidential mediation and the outcome remains secret. Those who enter mediation sometimes come out with less than half the money needed to repair their property; some are then selling their properties without repairs and without disclosure to unwitting buyers. For the latest news and detailed information go to our Leaky building help area, click here.

For news concerning leaky building claims and the home owner's financial assistance package go here. 

This is an extract from The Streetwise Home Buyer. The full chapter covers much more and you can download it below for free.

  • Law changes
  • How to avoid leaky buildings
  • Tell-tale signs