Toxic Homes Still A Nightmare For Many In New Zealand

A Herald article today highlighted the reality of the ‘cheap’ housing often bought by unwary homeowners and newcomers in New Zealand. It tells the story of a Malaysian couple who purchased a property in Buckland’s Beach, an affluent area in South Auckland that’s popular with immigrants from a number of countries.

Mr Chee bought his monolithic clad property nine years ago so that he and his family could make a new start in New Zealand. The house has been afflicted with leaky building syndrome. This is a caused by a weather tightness defect that allows water to leak into the structure of a building and rot the wooden frame, causing extensive structural damage and the growth of fungus that released dangerous spores called Stachybotrys, which produces trichothecene mycotoxins including satratoxins:

“…Mr Chee said the garage, living room and master bedroom areas now contained stachybotrys, a dangerous mould found in damp areas and linked to respiratory illnesses and infant deaths.

The 56-year-old watch salesman told the Herald that his family had been through extreme stress, anxiety and countless sleepless nights. He was on medication for high blood pressure.

“It is no wonder some victims have committed or attempted suicide.”

Mr Chee felt victimised and terribly let down by the Government-run Weathertight Homes Tribunal, which awarded only $141,800 for limited “target repairs”, when he had claimed $443,115 for a full reclad…”

One of the most common problems that migrants from developed countries encounter in New Zealand is the poor quality of the houses. Almost all homes are wooden framed and range from quaint old Kauri villas to brand new million dollar mansions;  there are often problems associated with dampness, poor weather tightness (‘leaky building’) lack of adequate heating and poor insulation.

Unfortunately many migrants are unaware of the massive extent of the leaky building disaster in New Zealand, even though it has been very much in the news for the last few years. A recent estimate is that it would cost the country $11.5 billion dollars to repair all its leaky homes, that’s approximately 10% of the country’s GDP. But the government actually stands to gain from those repairs because GST is charged on the work.

Stitched Up Migrants

In April of last year we picked up on another Herald report by Anne Gibson about another migrant family who unwittingly bought a leaky home nine years ago. ( see Leaky Homes Issues and ‘Stiched up’ Migrants) The White family were British immigrants who bought a house in Whangaparoa through a licensed real estate agent, Mrs White was keen to warn other migrants against being duped:

“Wilna White and her family are migrants who became leaky-building victims. After a nine-year struggle which is yet to end, she wants to warn other migrants of the dangers of buying a New Zealand house.

Paul and Wilna White lived in the English village of Barton-le-Clay outside Luton and worked in London, arriving here in December 2001.

The family loved Auckland’s beaches and bought a house at Whangaparaoa. They dealt with a licensed real estate agent.

Soon after buying, they discovered severe weather-tightness issues and the rot was so bad that a child fell part-way through an exterior deck.

The couple have fought for eight years to get compensation, claiming $475,000 in a Weathertight Homes Tribunal case. But earlier this year, they got just $173,000 and have appealed the decision.The tribunal awarded the Whites $121,000 from Lorelle Kerkin as the sole trustee of an estate that sold them the house at 6 Castaway Place, and $52,000 from Rodney District Council, which signed it off.

Mrs White said the past eight years had been a nightmare. She has been robbed of annual holidays because dealing with the leaky-house issue has taken up all her spare time.

Mrs White warned that migrants were in danger of being tricked.”

Has much changed  for migrants since the Whites arrived all those years ago? it would seem not, immigrants are still being seen as naive or easy targets and “stitched up” accordingly (also by Anne Gibson):

Immigrants are being saddled with leaky homes, unwittingly buying into our national disaster, says a Remuera real estate agent.Steve Koerber of Barfoot & Thompson has pointed the finger at vendors and other real estate agents, saying there is a lack of information about houses.

John Gray of the Homeowners and Buyers Association agreed that some agents were reluctant to let potential buyers know of weather-tightness issues, but an agency boss has rejected criticism.

Bryan Thomson, Harcourts chief executive, said agents were upfront if they were made aware of leaks. But not all vendors told agents about leak issues, he said.

Mr Koerber said migrants were particularly at risk because so many were unaware of the dangers of buying a New Zealand house. “I have a big problem with the fact that hundreds of new immigrants and some locals are literally stitched up into potentially leaky or actually leaky homes. Their eyes are wide shut and some owners and agents are genuinely relieved to find them,” Mr Koerber said.”

We’re mindful of the current immigration campaign being targeted at countries like Singapore that is using the draw of “cheap houses” to attract skilled, cashed-up workers over to New Zealand:

“The bait was better working hours, cheaper cars and housing – and in three weeks thousands from Singapore have registered their interest in living in New Zealand.

An Immigration New Zealand pilot project aimed at attracting Singaporean migrants has resulted in over 1000 registrations each week since it was launched last month, with 3565 potential immigrants having registered their interest in just three weeks.

Would-be migrants are told of comparatively cheaper housing, car ownership and a relaxed lifestyle – and those who registered their interest on received an email from Immigration telling them how to apply for relevant visas.”

Caveat Emptor! when something looks too good to be true…  Just remember that $11.5 billion has to come from somewhere.

See also: Health ruined in Quarter of a Million NZ Homes: “A quarter of a million homes are so cold, damp and poorly built they are causing serious health problems.”