400 home owners in lawsuit

More than 400 owners of leaky buildings have registered for a $100 million class action lawsuit seeking damages from cladding manufacturers.

Auckland lawyer Adina Thorn said registrations have come from throughout the country as well as Australia and Britain.

Thorn, who has extensive experience in representing victims of leaky buildings, said her lawsuit aimed to prove that cladding manufacturers sold faulty products, and will be funded on a "no win, no fee" basis by overseas litigation funders.

But before the funders, who remain anonymous, commit the money, Thorn said she needs to have signed up building owners with total damage of about $100m.

Though there have been over 400 registrations so far through the goodcladding.co.nz website, including from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, New Plymouth and Blenheim, Thorn said she had not reached that level yet. "I think we are going to get to $100m," she said.

The geographic spread of registrations had surprised her.

"I thought the registrations would be a lot more Auckland-centred, but that's not the case."

The leaky building scandal is estimated to have resulted in costs of more than $11 billion to repair or replace leaky buildings constructed between 1994 and 2005, with most of the costs shouldered by the buildings' owners.

There are many reasons why homeowners have been left out of pocket despite the existence of the Weathertight Homes Tribunal, and a Government scheme that could provide 50 per cent of the repair costs.

Lower Hutt leaky building owner Annamarie Rangikotua, who has registered to join the class action, said she only discovered her Belmont home was leaky when she tried to sell it in 2013.

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By that time, the home, built in 2001, was outside the 10-year timeframe that would have enabled her to seek compensation through the tribunal or Government scheme.

"I didn't know my house was leaky. There's no sign of mould. There's no musty smell," said Rangikotua, who believes many owners still did not realise they own leaky buildings.

It would cost about $190,000 to fix her home, she said.

Thorn's planned lawsuit offered hope, Rangikotua said. "I have got nothing to lose, and I have got something to gain."

Auckland leaky homeowner Felicity Scott has also registered. Her Auckland home was built in 1998, so by the time the Government's scheme was created in 2010, she was already outside the 10-year qualifying time limit.

When Scott built her home, it never occurred to her that materials could be on the market that would leak and rot, and she followed the advice of her architect and builder.

She said her home was well-built which meant it had not deteriorated as much as other leaky homes, but she could not afford to reclad it, and its sale value is low.

"It's the stigma. I have got a property that's reduced to its land value," Scott said.

Thorn said: "This is all about buildings with plaster cladding. It's not only about homes, it's all buildings - homes, commercial buildings [and] hospitals. All buildings need to have proper and safe cladding."

The claim was not covered by the 10-year limit in the Building Act, which covers defective building work, she said.

Instead the action would seek to prove that products like James Hardie's Harditex and Titan Board were defective. For such claims there was a six-year limit from the point at which the owner of a leaky building knew that the product itself was faulty.

James Hardie has declined to comment on Thorn's action.

 - The Dominion Post

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