New Zealand's leaky homes situation is commonly called a "crisis", but for some it is becoming a life-ruining tragedy.
Wayne Young, of Auckland, is believed to be the country's first leaky homes victim to have been left homeless and living on the streets.
With at least 23,500 homes affected by leak-related problems and the cost of repairs estimated at more than $6 billion, he is unlikely to be the last.
Young's leaky apartment in the upmarket Auckland suburb of Parnell was sold by mortgagee sale in December after he could not afford to pay for the necessary repairs to have it fixed. A bailiff finally evicted him from the property at the end of March.
Initially he had no choice but to sleep in his car, although friends would occasionally offer him a bed for a night. His bankruptcy means he can't run his business, leading to financial difficulties which have affected his mental health and forced him onto a sickness benefit.
With little prospect of his situation improving, invitations from friends have dried up. Over the last few weeks he has received a lifeline from the Anglican Church which has allowed him to stay in a hostel attached to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, in return for performing odd jobs around the property.
But builders are due at the hostel tomorrow to begin redeveloping the property, so he will be back on the streets again.
When Young bought his apartment in 1999 he thought he was taking a step up in the world, but instead it ended up ruining his life.
He had lived and worked in an old warehouse in the centre of Parnell for eight years, from which he ran his small commercial design and picture framing business.
It wasn't a luxurious life but it was a good one, he said, and he earned enough from the business to pay his way in the world.
The building's owners wanted to pull it down and build apartments on the site but couldn't, because Young's lease still had two years to run. So they made him an offer.
They would sell him one of the apartments they planned to build and include two car parks, allowing him to use the second car park as a workshop for his business.
With a mortgage from Westpac, it wasn't long before he was sitting pretty in his brand new apartment in the prophetically named Waterford Building (since renamed the Soma Building).
His contentment didn't last long.
It was soon apparent that water was entering the wall cavities and the building would require major renovation. Unfortunately Young didn't think the plans the building's body corporate committee drew up would fix the problem, so he sought to distance himself from them and engaged his own experts to come up with alternative plans. In body corporate matters, it is the majority view that prevails and the committee proceeded to have remedial work done and levied Young with a bill for more than $30,000 for his proportionate share of the costs.
Young took legal action to dispute the bill but the court decided in favour of the body corporate, ordering him to pay the original bill plus $5000 in costs, which he paid by increasing his mortgage.
That was the start of a drawn-out series of legal disputes between Young, the building's body corporate and others involved in trying to sort out problems caused by the leaks.
It wasn't long before relations between Young and the other apartment owners soured, although he feels his position was vindicated when the leaks continued after the initial remedial work was completed, making it necessary for the owners to undertake a second – more expensive – round of repairs.
Against a background of legal claim and counterclaim, Young was eventually presented with a bill for another $30,000 for the second round of repairs.
"I couldn't borrow any more and I refused to pay it. So the body corporate pursued me for that, plus costs. I was still making ends meet, until the bankruptcy notice arrived," Young said.
He was declared bankrupt in March 2008 and that affected his ability to operate his business, so his income declined. The constant legal battles and financial stress affected his mental health and and he now requires regular psychological counselling sessions.
By the middle of last year, Westpac made moves to sell Young's apartment by mortgagee sale. However, when it was put to auction, there were no buyers.
By that stage, relations between Young and his neighbours had deteriorated to the point where a group of them clubbed together to buy his apartment from the bank, on the condition they were given vacant possession.
Young was out and his ties with the building and its other occupants were severed.
Last April, ownership of the apartment was transferred to Craig Leishman, who is the owner of the building's body corporate management company, Boutique Body Corporates. That was a particularly bitter pill for Young to swallow, because Boutique Body Corporates played a central role in the disputes with Young.
Leishman said he bought the apartment as "a favour" to the other residents and expects to sell it at a loss. He already has a conditional offer from a buyer. Ironically, Leishman has previously faced similar financial difficulties to Young.
He is a former lawyer who was bankrupted in 1992. Then in 2000 he was sentenced to two years' jail by a court in Western Australia after pleading guilty to charges relating to drink driving and causing the death of a 19-year-old woman in a car accident. That led to him being struck off as a lawyer in this country.
When he returned to New Zealand he worked for the property management arm of real estate company Crockers before setting up Boutique Body Corporates.
Asked if he had any advice for Young, Leishman replied, "I wouldn't presume to comment on anyone else's situation.
"I've just got my head down and worked hard. Some things you can atone for, but some things, like the accident in Western Australia, you can never atone for. That, I've just had to accept. And try to do the best I can in other things I do."
- Sunday Star Times
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