Many homes built in the 1990s in New Zealand were built with design faults that meant they were unable to withstand the wet and humid weather conditions in the country. Design faults, combined with the weather, led to building materials rotting or decaying. In particular, the use of untreated kiln dried timber in wall framing caused difficulties through rotting, and many home owners had to put up with leaks when it rained.
A lot of homes are even now awaiting repair, and in 2002, the estimated costs to repair all these buildings stood at NZ$1.8billion.
There were several causes behind this issue. Builders had been using inadequate construction methods, cladding systems needed improving, and there was a lack of knowledge and skills when constructing homes.
However, one of the most important factors was that of legislation. The Building Act 1991 had made controls and standards far less stringent; meanwhile, the New Zealand building code and its surrounding legislation was not clear on what exactly was expected when building homes.
In Australia, law firm Lovegrove Solicitors is now seeking stronger litigation to protect homeowners.
Balconies are a particularly common problem; badly-built balconies are letting water seep into the home and are providing no outlet for water to run off. The solicitors argue that Australia’s legislation in this area needs to be updated to avoid a similar crisis to that of New Zealand.
The Building Code of Australia offers some guidance as to what must happen in relation to drainage. It notes, for example, water should be moved away from the building and should be prevented from entering the building, but it is not particularly detailed.
Lovegrove Solicitors argue the Code should specify exactly what needs to be done to solve the problem. In terms of balconies, for instance, it does not specify that there should be a step or lip to prevent water entering the home.
“The Code has to be amended to avoid an explosion of waterproofing claims because at the moment we are definitely witnessing lift off,” said Lovegrove Solicitors legal expert Stephen Smith.
Smith also points out that Australia’s current Building Code is actually modelled on the New Zealand building code.
There is already some progress taking place as individual states are beginning to look at their own legislation and improve it. South Australia, for example, now has a more specific description of what is needed to prevent the transfer of moisture from the ground. However, an overall update to Australia’s Building Code now could prevent an expensive outlay in the future.