Leaky buildings liability 'unfair'

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 10:08 14/02/2013

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Tararua District Council has been "unfairly targeted" by the Government's leaky buildings liability laws and has filed a submission to the Law Commission urging reform.

Staff and councillors voiced their displeasure at a recent meeting in Dannevirke regarding the council being held liable for leaky buildings not in its district and the financial losses that go with it.

The rule determines the liability of multiple parties in civil proceedings. Its application has been controversial because of the volume of claims, highlighting lack of clarity over accountability.

The Law Commission is carrying out a review, and the Tararua District Council has a lot to say on the topic.

Council chief executive Blair King said the leaky buildings crisis didn't affect the district directly - it has no leaky buildings built in the relevant time period, between 1994 and 2005 - but its participation in a self-insurance scheme resulted in financial loss.

"In terms of the actual leaky buildings, have we ended up in court? No. But have we been struck by having to pay out for Tauranga, Queenstown, and Auckland? Yes.

"What we're suggesting through this whole thing is [the joint and several rule] is not appropriate for us . . . and we're suggesting to go with a proportionate system."

The council's manager of strategy and district development Peter Wimsett said: "The Law Commission is avoiding its responsibilities by taking the easy route out through having [this] approach to the joint and several liability . . . we were unfairly targeted and had to contribute an uneven share of the blame and they should actually modify the current rule of law.

"But how do we convince them that they need to change it? Help, I don't know, maybe suggest they're not doing their job if they don't change it, if you want to be heavy-handed." Mr Wimsett acknowledges the commission has noted problems, but said he felt it still wanted to continue with the status quo.

"Making local governments responsible for every single building . . . it doesn't seem that fair."

Councillor Warren Davidson said the "wrongful behaviour" needed to be paid for, but the scheme being reformed "is the right way to go".

Law Commission legal and policy adviser Eliza Prestidge Oldfield said the submissions deadline had been extended to tomorrow to allow for "several key stakeholders", such as the Auckland Council, to submit.

The commission would not comment on the Tararua District Council's concerns, but said: "We always carefully consider each submission, and general themes arising across submissions".

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The commission's final report is expected to be tabled in Parliament in June.

This is the second time Tararua District Council has recently spoken out against government procedures.

At a meeting in Dannevirke, staff and councillors voiced their displeasure about the proposed introduction of a consistent national approach to earthquake-prone building assessments.

They said calls for them to fund earthquake assessments for the district's buildings would be unaffordable for the council and heritage buildings could be lost as a result.

- Manawatu Standard

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