By Raymond Huo
They say your home is your castle, but a castle can’t be built on thin air.
But judging by the way Building Minister Maurice Williamson is handling the Building Act review it is fair to suggest that the National-ACT Government is determined to do exactly that.
The main purpose of the review is to rebalance responsibility and accountability among consenting authorities, building practitioners and consumers. But instead of enhancing protection for ratepayers and consumers, the Government is actually planning to reduce the level of protection for every party involved.
The Christchurch and Wellington councils have rightly raised a number of concerns about the review, urging the government to introduce mandatory warranties in new buildings to avoid a repeat of the leaky homes saga.
They argue such a scheme will protect consumers and local authorities from liability when builders produce substandard work.
In the absence of a more genuine reallocation of accountability, for example, through mandatory home warranties and the introduction of proportionate liability, consumers and ratepayers will be further exposed.
Worse still, home-owners will have fewer remedies (if any) if they are left in the lurch by an unscrupulous shell company.
In the UK, a 10-year warranty protects around 80% of all new homes built in the UK. The warranty ensures every new home is constructed in accordance with NHBC (National House-Builders Council) standards. The warranty covers the workmanship, the builder’s insolvency and any faults, damages or defects discovered within two years of completion.
In Australia, Tasmania is the only state with a voluntary builders warranty scheme. All other state schemes are mandatory.
There are two further issues arising from the current building amendment bill (no 4). Under the current bill proposed by Maurice Williamson, the consenting authorities are no longer required to issue a Code Compliance Certificate. Instead they are only required to issue a Consenting Compliance Certificate.
Does this mean that consenting authorities will no longer have any role in checking the quality of building work? Or is it just that Maurice Williamson only likes to confine his concerns to aspects of semantics?
This bill will do nothing to improve the consenting authorities’ ‘last-man-standing’ position. It will be the consumers that are left to pick up much of the bill for any claims resulting from substandard building work.
No wonder then that some have suggested that the intention of the proposed change is no more than “ring-fencing” the consenting authorities from any liability in the event of building failure.
Again under the current bill, there is no accountability for manufacturers of building materials and products. Some stakeholders expressed frustration that they remain “unable to fathom” why product manufacturers are not identified as part of the regime when all other parties (councils, owners, builders and designers) are.
Maurice Williamson gives the impression that these issues do not concern him in the slightest.
The result is that issues around building materials are not addressed in either of his two building Bills (No. 3 and 4), although they had played a significant role in the leaky building saga.
Some stakeholders have suggested the leaky home problem should "more correctly" be called "the rotting framing problem".
Said one: “Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and you don’t meet the building code but if you follow the building code you lose the manufacturer’s warranty on the product. Can anyone say Product not fit for purpose?”
It appears that the National-ACT Government has lost sight of the most fundamental purpose of the Building Act Review and that is to provide New Zealanders with quality, safe and durable homes.
Raymond Huo is the Labour Party Spokesperson for Building and Construction