Council offers olive branch in homeowner's long battle

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:00 30/12/2013

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Reg Cooper's 19-year fight to get the Tasman District Council to acknowledge responsibility for the multiple construction problems with his Rangihaeata home may be turning a corner.

The council's chief executive, Lindsay McKenzie, has got involved, met with 90-year-old Cooper and his advocate Jonathan Port and offered a potential solution.

Cooper said the proposal was interesting and he did not want to comment until he had fully evaluated it.

He has gone through numerous solicitors and nearly $100,000 in legal and engineering fees since an independent building inspection in 1995 found his house was nowhere near standard.

The house was built under contract on a site prepared by a council sub-contracting unit and was inspected four times during construction by a council building inspector.

But the triple-heart-bypass and bowel-cancer survivor was left with a house which could not be insured for anything but fire and has been listed as having "some value in salvage".

Cooper cannot light his wood fire because it does not pass council inspection, the internal walls have not all been bolted to the concrete floor and the roofing iron is 100mm short of the gutter.

The exterior cladding has been incorrectly fitted, the roof has insufficient trusses and no interior end gables, and the doors jam because the concrete foundation pad was poured over rotting vegetation and topsoil.

"I tried and tried to get it fixed, but the council refused to accept liability," he said.

McKenzie said he could not avoid getting involved in the issue which was not just significant for Cooper but the wider Golden Bay community.

He had visited Cooper with Golden Bay councillor Martine Bouillir earlier this year to "get a sense of the issue from his view", McKenzie said.

The current stalemate had come about after the council's earlier issued building consent had been challenged and withdrawn which meant the council had to issue a notice to fix - which put the obligation on Cooper to identify the work needed to be done to make his home compliant through a certificate of acceptance.

McKenzie said it was unlikely Cooper would seek a certificate of acceptance, which would leave him in breach of his notice to fix. "But we are not going to prosecute him for failing to fix - it would be immoral."

The first step of a proposed solution put forward by the council would see an independent inspection of the house carried out to identify the work needed.

McKenzie said the council was willing to contribute to that work although a sum had yet to be negotiated.

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"Once we know the scale of the issue then we will know where we are going," he said.

The council could "not deal with the legacy issues - they are too deeply ingrained". There was no timeline to progress the issue, he said.

Port said he and Cooper were still preparing a response.

"McKenzie has moved a good way ahead. We have never had an offer in the past which has not come with a threat.

"However, there are still details to be worked through."

- Nelson

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